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Will Robert Hurt have a Democratic challenger this year?

Hurt-Rotunda [1]It appears there is a good chance that Fifth District U.S. Representative Robert Hurt will not face a Democratic challenger in the 2014 general election.

About two months ago, Bearing Drift broke the news [2] that Ben Hudson of Fluvanna County, a retired U.S. Army officer, was seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Hurt. Hudson had run for the same office in 2012 as a write-in candidate, getting 388 scattered votes.

Subsequently, another candidate emerged. Last month, the Daily Progress reported [3] that television and film actor Lawrence Gaughan of Albemarle County had thrown his hat in the ring.

Both candidates submitted their candidacy papers properly by the April 1st filing deadline. They will both be on the ballot at a convention of Fifth District Democrats to be held at Fluvanna County High School on Saturday, May 31.

A funny thing happened on the way to the nomination, however.

Fifth District Democratic leaders are unimpressed, and in some cases displeased, by the choices they have before them.

Hudson, for instance, despite the tepid results of his write-in candidacy in 2012, had actively opposed Democratic nominee John Douglass. One local Democratic activist told me that he was puzzled over the fact that Hudson had expressed views at odds with Democratic policy positions on about five key issues, positions that he has now reversed without explanation.

For his part, Gaughan — who has lived outside the district for about five years, until recently — tried to run against incumbent Virgil Goode and challenger and future congressman Tom Perriello in 2008 as a candidate for the Green Party, but the party’s central committee refused to nominate him [4].

Neither Gaughan nor Hudson has reported any campaign receipts or expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. (During the reporting period ending March 31, Congressman Hurt’s campaign received $643,625 in contributions with $378,679 cash on hand and no debts.)

It appears Fifth District Democrats are looking for a way to avoid fielding a weak candidate against Hurt, in the belief that no candidate is better than one who may bring disrepute upon the party.

In fact, “no candidate” is one of the choices that will be on the ballot at the May 31 convention in Fluvanna.

During the delegate selection process, which will take place in the form of “assembled caucuses” in each of the district’s cities and counties, according to the convention call [5],

After caucus participants have been certified as eligible to participate, all participants will be asked to assemble into caucuses, with one caucus for each filed Congressional candidate, a “No Candidate” caucus, and an “uncommitted” caucus.

and this:

A delegate candidate or alternate candidate may indicate a preference for a filed Congressional candidate on his or her filing form, or he or she may file as a “No Candidate” delegate or alternate or as an “Uncommitted” delegate or alternate. If a delegate or alternate candidate fails to indicate a preference on the filing form, the committee shall list such persons as “uncommitted”.

Most pertinent, section 11 of the convention call exercises an option offered in Section 12.5 of the Democratic Party Plan [6] implemented in September 2013 — essentially “none of the above” as an alternative to selecting a candidate:

The Temporary Rules Committee shall prepare the pre-printed ballot, which shall be on white paper and which shall contain the names of all filed candidates for Congress as well as the option of selecting “No Candidate”.

While Fifth District Democratic party leaders cannot prudently advocate in the open for the “no candidate” option, they are hoping that its prominent inclusion will nudge delegates in that direction. Like their counterparts in the Seventh Congressional District, who are running nobody [7] against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they are calculating that having no candidate to run against an incumbent Republican is better for Fifth District Democrats in the long run than having a candidate who will embarrass the party.

The question that remains is this: Will the Libertarian Party or the Independent Green or Green parties take advantage of this potential vacuum to run a challenge against Hurt, who is seeking his third term? Stay tuned — there may be more news to come.

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