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Trio running for House seat in the 18th District

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Del. Clifford L. "Clay" Athey's impending retirement has set off a three-way race to replace him in the newly redrawn House of Delegates 18th District.
Republicans will choose either Kevin P. Kelley of Warrenton or Michael J. Webert of Marshall in Tuesday's primary.

The winner will face Bob Zwick of Marshall, the sole Democratic candidate, in the November general election. The new district lines drawn by the General Assembly encompass parts of Warren, Culpeper and Fauquier counties and all of Rappahannock County.

Kelley, 52, and Webert, 31, are alike in several ways. Both were born far from Virginia, Kelley in Germany and Webert in Colorado. Neither has held public office, and both emphasize their business successes and pro-business stances on issues as major qualifications.

Kelley owns and operates a marketing and printing firm in Manassas. Webert is a farmer who sells cattle, horses and crops raised on 3,500 acres owned and rented by his family. Both identify themselves as conservatives committed to preserving the state's ranking at or near the top of surveys listing the best places to operate a business.

Kelley graduated from Marywood College in Scranton, Pa., with a bachelor's degree in accounting. Webert earned a bachelor's in communications from George Mason University.

Webert said he would concentrate on finding ways to attract environmentally clean, "low footprint" businesses to the district by streamlining the state regulatory process. More businesses close to home mean "some of the people now commuting to Washington hopefully will find they spend more time with their families and not as much on fuel," Webert said.

Kelley also cited the need for a sound business environment in calling for improved infrastructure, especially transportation projects that would ease commuting. "Truck traffic on [Interstate 81] has been an issue for years," he said. "When you're driving, it can get scary."

Kelley said his 32 years of business experience and lobbying for pro-small business legislation in the General Assembly "puts me way ahead of my opponent. I started a small business 13 years ago. I've weathered two major recessions, the one after 9/11 and the one that's going on."

Webert noted that Kelley's printing and consulting business is in Manassas, which lies outside the district. "My business and livelihood is based in Fauquier County, in the 18th District. Therefore, I would be able to keep better track of the pulse of the 18th District," Webert said.

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