Senator Hanger represents the 24th Senate District that includes Augusta County, Greene County, Highland County, Lexington, Staunton, Waynesboro, plus parts of Albemarle County, Rockbridge County, and Rockingham County. You may recall that right wingers in the GOP worked hard to deny Hanger the party's nomination in 2007. They put up Scott Sayre who Hanger eventually defeated in the primary, but not until deep rifts between party factions were exposed.
Flash forward to the summer of 2009. At Staunton's July 4 parade Senator Hanger had his own float (actually a convertible) that was quite separate from the Republican float. Then later that month came Chris Saxman's surprise announcement that he was withdrawing from the 20th District House of Delegates race. Although there was a very public forum at Buffalo Gap High School, the local GOP chairs privately interviewed candidates and just as privately picked Staunton City Councilman Dickie Bell as their nominee. Bell easily won the election in November.
So, what does all this have to do with Senator Hanger? The bitter feelings from 2007 are still festering among local Republicans. Hanger, who is still popular with many in the GOP (and independent) electorate remains distrusted, even disliked, by his party's right wing. Reports indicate that the GOP chairs' interviews of potential candidates in the 20th District got not only into issues and electability, but also touched on their relationship and loyalty to the Senator. Anyone who was seen as too friendly to Hanger, or not tight enough with the conservative faction, had no chance of being the nominee. Equally important was picking a nominee acceptable to Delegate Saxman.
Looking forward to 2011, most observers assume Senator Hanger will seek renomination by the GOP and another term. But he faces considerable obstacles. Hanger, though he remains popular with many in the community, is largely estranged from the local Republican committees. Delegate Dickie Bell, who owes his nomination to those local chairs and to Chris Saxman will never be a Hanger ally and may well continue what some say was Saxman's behind-the-scenes sabotage of the Senator.
Speaking of Saxman, come January he is free to roam the political landscape. He says he will concentrate on "school choice" issues, but nobody buys that as his last waltz in politics. While some of the rumors swirling around his exit from the House race would, if true, likely end his career in electoral politics; the rumors of his future political aspirations have more credibility. Some say he may challenge Bob Goodlatte, but this bird wonders if his plans might be focused more on 2011.
Added to the toxic mix for Senator Hanger is the rise of the Tea Party activists and their appeal to right wing Republicans and the continuing local involvement of far right groups like the Club for Growth fighting healthcare reform. The nexus of a hostile party leadership and right wing grassroots politics spells danger for a mountain-valley Republican like Hanger. The Senator is well-advised to watch his back, to see who is following, to see who is gaining, to see who is taking aim. Might be a whole flock!