Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade and state Sen. Donald McEachin are competing in Virginia’s 4th District. (Wade Photo by Jay Paul; McEachin photo courtesy his campaign)
Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade, a Republican, and lawyer Donald McEachin, a Democratic state senator, are battling for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the newly redrawn 4th Congressional District.
The election is scheduled for Nov. 8, coinciding with the presidential election. The last time 4th District voters went to the polls, incumbent Randy Forbes was on the ballot, but Forbes decided not to seek reelection in the 4th because a court-ordered redistricting took it out of the safely Republican column and made it more Democratic-leaning.
Forbes failed to win the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District.
Wade, 60, and McEachin, 55, are newcomers to a congressional race, but both are experienced at running election campaigns.
McEachin, who served in the House of Delegates before winning election to the state Senate, started a law firm with offices now in the Richmond area as well as in Southside Virginia. He represents the 9th Senate District, encompassing Charles City County and parts of Henrico and Hanover counties and Richmond. Wade was first elected Henrico’s sheriff in 1999 and commands one of the largest sheriff’s departments in Virginia.
Under its new configuration, the 4th Congressional District stretches from Richmond and portions of Henrico and Chesterfield counties to the Hampton Roads area, including parts of Chesapeake and Suffolk.
Both candidates, though generally well known in the Richmond area, have been busy introducing themselves in areas of the district where they are unfamiliar faces.
As of early October, McEachin had raised more then $341,000 for his campaign, while Wade had raised nearly $57,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which uses public documents to track money related to political races.
McEachin, the son of a retired Army veteran and a school teacher, says he views a possible seat in Congress as an opportunity to advance issues he has been interested in as a state legislator: criminal justice reform; improving and protecting the environment; expanding health care; providing jobs and helping military families.
“I think the demands of the district suggest that we must address all of those issues,” McEachin says.
He anticipates a boost from voter sentiment against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. “[Trump has] insulted any number of people. In my district, he is not well-received,” McEachin says.
However, both Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have fairly high “unfavorable” ratings nationally.
Wade has mixed emotions about Trump. “I absolutely do not like some of the things he said. But he said them. I really do believe he cares about the American people and getting this country going in the right direction. In my eyes, he’s better than the Democratic candidate,” Wade says.
The sheriff emphasizes that he’s running on his record, and with a focus on promoting conservative principles to help solve the nation’s problems.
Wade, who has a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, says he’s especially proud of the the detox and drug rehabilitation program he pioneered for inmates at the Henrico jail.
“We’re detoxing at least a hundred people a month for opiates alone,” he says.
The sheriff says such a program, along with mental health counseling, goes a long way toward ensuring that inmates have a chance to help tame some of the demons that brought them into the criminal justice system.
As a former president of the American Correctional Association, the accrediting agency for jails and prisons across the country, Wade believes he would offer special insight into the nationwide debate about correctional reform if he gets to Congress.
On the politically touchy issue of guns and how to stem gun violence, the candidates take different approaches.
Wade, in campaign literature and in interviews, says he is a strong proponent of the Second Amendment. From his experience as a sheriff and a police officer, Wade believes that much of the gun violence in the country is rooted in mental illness and substance abuse.
“If we can do something about the drug problem in this country, we can reduce the crime and reduce the shooting and have an ability to help the mentally ill,” the sheriff says.
McEachin says he would work in Congress to reduce gun violence by requiring universal background checks and renewing the assault weapons ban.
On the issues of border security and immigration, Wade favors erecting a physical barrier on the southern border of the United States.
He would seek to place illegal immigrants on a five-year probationary period during which they, among other requirements, must hold gainful employment and pay back taxes for the years they were undocumented. At the end of the five years of probation, they would receive legal status, but not citizenship.
McEachin says he would work toward comprehensive immigration reforms to enable law-abiding members of the community to earn citizenship.
Brat vs. Bedell
The other congressional race directly affecting those living in the metro area is in the 7th District. In that race, incumbent Dave Brat of Henrico, a Republican and a former economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, is paired against attorney Eileen Bedell of Bon Air, in Chesterfield County.
In the last election, Brat scored a historic upset against fellow Republican Eric Cantor—the former House majority leader in Congress. The 7th District has been redrawn since Brat’s win, but political analysts say it still skews Republican. The GOP has held the seat since the 1970s.
The district includes Culpeper, Goochland, Hanover, Louisa, New Kent, and Orange counties, and portions of Chesterfield, Henrico and Spotsylvania counties, as well as part of Richmond.