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'Shad Planking' offers window on US Senate race in Virginia

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The reason: At Shad Planking, your $25 entrance fee buys a heaping plate of shad, fried whiting, baked beans, coleslaw, and a cup of sweet tea. But the political candidates themselves dispense the free beer and spirits. So if Mr. Merchant, a resident of Fort Royal, Va., who fondly recalls Planking appearances by Democratic figures such former US Sen. Chuck Robb and former Gov. Douglas Wilder, wants stronger libation, he's got to go undercover.

"Where are the Democrats at?" he asks. "I'm going to set up my own booth."

Referring to Planking no-show Tim Kaine, also a former Virginia governor and current Democratic candidate for US Senate, Merchant says Mr. Kaine is missing an opportunity.

Democrats "started this ... thing," he says. "Why isn't he here? He should have his bus here. He should have everything here.... [Democrats are] not here because he's not here."

For Kaine, the political calculation was that a day stumping with war veterans and women voters in densely populated Hampton Roads and a suburb of Richmond was worth far more than an afternoon among a largely unsympathetic crowd, where few votes are to be had. In a race likely to come down to a razor-thin margin of victory, a day with key constituencies trumps a pilgrimage to the Planking.

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