By Ellen Kanzinger
While the world waits to hear who the next president of the United States will be, Virginia residents are keeping a close eye on the local House of Representatives races.
There are 11 congressional districts in Virginia, all of which are up for re-election. Republicans hold eight of those seats.
Democrat Kai Degner, 36, is challenging Republican incumbent Robert Goodlatte for the 6th Virginia Congressional District seat this year. Goodlatte, 64, has held the office since he first ran and won in 1992. Degner aims to end Goodlatte’s 24 consecutive years in office.
The 6th District covers parts of 12 counties and seven cities, including Lexington, Roanoke and Harrisonburg. Goodlatte has won at least 60 percent of the vote in each of the past 13 elections. In four of those cycles, no one challenged his seat.
The two contenders disagree on a number of issues, including who the next commander in chief should be. Other points of contention include immigration reform, term limits and gun laws. Both candidates fall along party lines on these issues.
Goodlatte graduated from Bates College for undergraduate studies and Washington and Lee for law school. He worked as a partner in a private Roanoke law firm before running for office. While serving Virginia, Goodlatte has worked on a number of different committees, including the House Committee on Agriculture and House Judiciary Committee.
In 2013, members of the majority party selected Goodlatte to serve as chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee considers legislation dealing with the administration of justice, including the federal courts and national law enforcement agencies. When called for, the committee also oversees presidential impeachment trials.
Roger Jarrell, chairman of the Rockbridge Area Republican Party, is optimistic about Goodlatte’s chances against Degner this year.
“It wouldn’t matter who they nominated in this district,” he said. “I don’t think he’s [Degner] a very effective candidate. But we don’t take anything for granted.”
A real estate agent from Harrisonburg, Degner is running for his first congressional seat. Degner was born in Germany but his family moved to the United States before he started college. He received his bachelor’s degree and masters from James Madison University. Degner is serving his ninth year on the Harrisonburg City Council and briefly held the position of mayor in 2009 and 2010.
Tom Howarth originally filed as the Democratic contender but withdrew from the race due to health reasons. Degner stepped up as the challenger in early June. Gene Zitver, chairman of the Democratic Party of Lexington, praised Degner’s efforts so far in a typically Republican district.
“It’s obviously an uphill campaign because he’s a Democrat,” he said. “But I think he’ll do well.”
According to the Federal Election Commission, Degner has raised almost $150,000 in four months. Over 94 percent of his campaign contributions have come from individual donations. Meanwhile, Goodlatte has raised over $1.6 million for this year’s campaign cycle. Individuals donated 43 percent of his campaign finances whereas political action committees (PACs) made up 55 percent of his contributions.
Goodlatte and Degner debated for the first and only time on Oct. 17 in Lynchburg.