Primary in the 22nd
This district is made up of Botetourt, part of Roanoke and Montgomery Counties, Salem and Radford Cities.
It is a pretty solid GOP district, but a "perfect storm" could allow a democrat to win here.
Like most all the primaries this year, this race is occurring due to Bell's support of Chichester and the tax increase proposals. This is interesting because Bell actually opposed the tax increases in 2004.
One other issue in this race is the bill on an indoor smoking ban, which Bell patroned. From what I have seen, this is actually a bigger issue for most people than his support of the tax increases.
One advantage Bell has here is that his support for social issues is not being challenged, which probably means he will hold that constituency within the party. The marriage amendment passed overwhelmingly in the district, so that probably bodes well for him too.
Smith's advantage is his name ID from being Roanoke mayor; but none of Roanoke City is in the district. In fact, Ralph actually moved to Botetourt to run for Lacey Putney's seat in 2005; but when Putney ran for re-election Smith decided not to get into the race. Now with Putney running again in 2007; Smith has opted to run against Bell.
On the money front, Bell has $65,879 in the bank; while Smith has not reported yet. Smith is independently wealthy; so he will likely do a good bit of self-financing if he needs additional money that he cannot raise. This is also one reason he has gotten alot of support from the VCSS and affliated groups; b/c they won't have to send money his way and hopefully he can give them some. This would tend to favor Smith, as 65k isn't very much for a senate district.
One interesting thing about this race is that Sandy Cupp-Davis, a board member of VCAP, is apparently supporting Bell (she lives in Blacksburg, right outside the district). She has given money to him several times since 2005; including a donation on 12/31/06. That is certainly one disadvantage Smith will face as the only board member near him is not supporting him (and she has a nice house for fundraisers).
It appears alot of the major players are staying out of this race. I have been told that Del. Griffith and Fralin are not taking sides here, and I think Del. Nutter is staying out of it as well. That part probably helps Smith, since it would appear that they don't support Brandon 100%.
As for the activists, I think Bell probably has the early advantage. Certainly this is only so important; as money and ultimately votes matter the most, but the grassroots look to be in Bell's favor right now. This also helps Bell b/c these people are the ones who can usually sway the GOP undecideds on how to vote in the primaries.
Lastly, the fallout from this could be huge. If there is a nasty primary and each side refuses to support the winner of the primary, the GOP could possibly lose the seat. My biggest concern is that with none of the HOD races being competitive, and no major races emerging in the constitutional offices, people could just not vote b/c they don't feel like there is anything to vote for. While this area is solidly GOP, there are still enough dems to keep it interesting if a large block of the GOPs don't show up. There are 2 dems looking at running, so they know there is an opportunity as well.
I think Bell has the advantage right now, but we will have a better idea as the organizations start really shaping up.