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An ambitious, unfazed student at UR sets his sights on a solidly Democratic district for his first race. 

The Young Republican

One election's coming to an end. But one young man already is gearing up for next year's. Chris Elliott, a newcomer to Virginia politics who will turn 21 just in time to run for office in 2001, will do battle with a two-term assemblywoman in the House of Delegates' 71st District. Chris Elliott, a junior at the University of Richmond, plans to assume the Republican spot on the ballot. One problem — OK, several. It's a strongly Democratic district. And his opponent will be Del. Viola Baskerville, an experienced political leader who has never faced serious opposition. In her last race she went unchallenged. In 1997, she faced a third-party candidate who received only 14 percent of the vote. Elliott says he can do better. District 71 contains north central Richmond and a small northern section of Henrico County. "There's a good argument that Republicans have ignored that district — and Democrats take it for granted," Elliott says. "The most important thing I hope to provide is a choice. She hasn't had a real strong opposition ever." Elliott is happy to hit on problems he says need attention in his district. "We have problems of unemployment, drug problems, underemployment — which is just an important as unemployment," Elliott says. "Schools have trouble. We are lagging behind." Taking on these problems sounds like a tall order for a man pursuing his bachelor's degree in political science. But Elliott says he has firsthand knowledge of Richmond's challenges due to his work with the National Student Partnership, an organization that moves people from welfare to work. He teaches people in Gilpin Court job-interviewing skills and shows them how to draft an effective resume. Elliott is big on school vouchers. "When a voucher is given to a parent the parent has a choice as to where to send the child," he says. "There is not an infringement on anyone's rights when that is for their child. It's their [parents] money." Elliott also is big on letting people make decisions about what happens to their environment. While he acknowledges the importance of reviewing sound scientific data, he insists that citizens should make the final decisions. "I think, Who would know more about it than a scientist?" Elliott muses. "But scientists shouldn't drive policy. People should drive policy. Let's do everything we can to foster civic involvement. The key to getting people to care about the environment is to get them into that environment. Get them to see it and you'll be amazed at the attitude change. They won't take it for granted." But Elliott isn't one of those government-is-useless Republicans. He admits government can do some useful things. Protecting citizens from crime by enforcing existing gun laws and cracking down on illegal guns are things he wants government to continue doing. Elliott points to the success of Project Exile as proof that government can take a bite out of crime. "Project Exile has been tremendously successful," Elliott says. "A mother [in Gilpin Court] had called me. She said her son had gone to jail because he had an illegal gun. She said to me, 'If it means the streets are safer because they used my son as an example, then it's worth it.' " Elliott often considered public service when he was growing up in Mobile, Ala., because he wanted to help people. "I've always been able to help individuals," he says. "My lifelong goal was to help a lot of people, to see if the individualist approach to government can help a lot of people." Local Republicans pushed him to run. Speaking with Richmond Republican Committee Chairman Pratt Stelly gave Elliott his inspiration. Stelly says she knew she had her candidate when Elliott approached her. His work in Gilpin Court convinced her, she adds, that he was the "ultimate compassionate conservative." "He's what everybody should be," Stelly says. "He realizes that we have to change the system. But we have to help the people." Elliot isn't expecting to have a well-financed campaign in his run in the heavily Democratic district, so he knows he has to rely on shaking lots of hands and proving his worth to the local Republican Party. At the 2nd Street Festival earlier this year Elliott was on hand to let people know that he wants their vote. He already has worked in numerous campaigns and is now the vice chairman of administration for the local Republican chapter. "He's the No. 2 person," Stelly says. "If I'm not there to run a meeting, Chris will be there." Running against an incumbent will not be easy, but Stelly believes that Elliott could surprise people. She points to 35-year-old Del. Terrie Suit's victory last year over Democratic six-term incumbent Glen Crowshaw of Virginia Beach as proof that what some people call impossible can be achieved. "People said she was crazy for running," Stelly says. "There's no such thing as the impossible. It can be done." Even with his passion for politics, knowledge of the issues and a desire to serve, he will be facing a steep uphill climb in 2001. Del. Baskerville holds a solid Democratic seat. Instead of being nervous about the upcoming challenge, she is delighted to see a development that will raise interest in local issues and bring more people to the polls. "I welcome a race," Baskerville says. "When there's competition, voter turnout increases and focus on the issues increases." Elliott admits that he's considered running for higher office someday. But, for now, he wants his potential constituents to know he is working to win in District 71. "I want to look back on life and know I've helped the people in my district," Elliott says. "How big that constituency gets is up to them. Only if they want me to do something more will I do it." But he does confess that his friends see more to him. "I have a nickname," Elliott says. "They call me 'Guv' at
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