Cigar smoke ascends to the heavens, along with the souls of a few thousand crucified fish. Confederate flags wave gaily. Handguns hang on the hips of open-carry advocates -- hey, you never know what might go down while you’re waiting in the food line. It can only be the 63rd Shad Planking, the annual Virginia ritual of glad-handing, trash-talking and beer-drinking.
Surrounded by tape recorders and handlers in blue Oxfords, U.S. Senate candidate George Allen waxes expansive: "It’s the way politics really ought to be. It’s bipartisan and just a lot of good folks from all over Virginia gathered here in these pines. And smile. And eat and drink and mostly be happy."
Tea party favorite Jamie Radtke, a former receptionist for Allen, is going up against him for the Republican nomination. "We just need something different. It’s not personal," she says. "Sending a career politician to D.C. and thinking it’s going to be different this time around isn’t being realistic."
This is Radtke’s first Shad Planking as a political candidate. "Welcome to the --" She looks around at the khaki-wearing, beer-sloshing, campaign-stickered crowd.
"Welcome to the... the fray! Welcome to the fray."