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Bluegrass legend lends voice to Powell campaign


MINERAL—On a sunny day in Mineral’s acorn-strewn Walton Park, a couple dozen people munched on popcorn while they waited for the man they’d come to see.

It could have been Democratic congressional candidate Wayne Powell. Or maybe it was bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley.

Stanley, his son Ralph II and their band joined Powell—who’s running against Rep. Eric Cantor in the 7th Congressional District—for what Powell’s campaign billed as an “old-timey” barnstorming tour of the district Tuesday night and Wednesday.

They called it the “O Cantor, Where Art Thou?” tour, a riff on the 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Stanley’s singing for that movie earned him a Grammy award and a surge of popularity outside bluegrass music circles.

The group made stops in Ashland, Culpeper, Mineral, Goochland and Glen Allen, with Stanley singing and Powell and his aides making speeches to supporters.

“Now, on Election Day, don’t forget to go out and vote for Wayne,” Stanley said. “He’s a fine fellow and he’ll do you a good job.”

Stanley sang several of his well-known songs—“O Death,” which won him the Grammy, “Little Maggie” and others.

Stanley is not from the 7th District, but instead from Southwest Virginia’s 9th. His son said Powell strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a friend, invited them to come do the campaign tour.

They were happy to oblige, Stanley II said, because they are “old-time” Democrats—something Saunders described on stage as “Jacksonian  the kind of Democrat that’ll fight you,” and fiddler John Rigsby described as supporting rural, working people.

Powell is fighting an uphill battle against Cantor, who is House majority leader and much better known and better funded than Powell, who is running his first-ever political race.

On stage in Mineral, Powell complained about Cantor’s campaign donations from the oil, pharmaceutical and other big industries, and said his opponent is more interested in power than in his constituents.

“He sells his vote,” Powell said. “Which means he sells out places like Louisa.”

Powell also criticized Cantor on women’s issues, saying the Republican opposes intrusive big government until it comes to birth control, abortions or other women’s health issues.

The Mineral stop didn’t draw a big crowd, but Powell’s campaign said the other stops on the tour drew upwards of 100 people each.

“Two o’clock on a weekday is tough,” said Louisa County Democratic Party Chairwoman Joanna Hickman. “[But] Ralph Stanley is a very popular person here. [Powell’s] association with Ralph Stanley says something to people.”

Louisa Democrats at the Mineral stop said they are hopeful for Powell’s chances in the county—particularly, they said, because voters on both sides of the aisle have hard feelings about a perceived lack of help from Cantor after the earthquake that caused so much damage a year ago.

Cantor had at one point suggested that Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars should be tied to federal budget cuts, although he later joined other state officials in pushing FEMA to help quake victims.

That has caused “a lot of bitterness,” said Fred Lancaster, a Louisa resident who has talked to a lot of his neighbors by doing phone-banking for the Democrats in the evenings. “That’s really crossed party lines.”

Chris Lloyd said she feels that Cantor never visits her part of the district and doesn’t understand Louisa’s needs.

She said Powell has specifically mentioned helping bring broadband Internet to rural Louisa, which Lloyd said would help attract business.

With Lloyd was Faye Rosenthal, who called herself an independent but said she was voting “ABC: anybody but Cantor” because she disagrees with his policies.

Hickman said she is seeing more enthusiasm for Democratic candidates in this year’s election than she did in 2008.

“We might for the very first time go blue in the county,” Hickman said. Then she paused. “That might be wishful thinking.”

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028