By Tyler Whitley
Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-4th, first won his seat narrowly in a special election in June 2001, but he has had an easier time since.
In a district that stretches from the southern Chesterfield County suburbs through peanut and tobacco country and into suburban Hampton Roads, Forbes has brushed aside little-known and underfunded opponents in the past four general elections. In two of those contests, he had no Democratic challenger.
This year, his Democratic opponent is a retired Emporia physician, Dr. Wynne LeGrow, who brings an unusual distinction to the race. He is a professed atheist.
"I've been a nonbeliever since I was 16," said LeGrow, the son of a minister. But he said he follows the Golden Rule.
Dan Palazzolo, a political scientist at the University of Richmond, said about 10 percent of the American population classifies itself as atheist.
"This makes LeGrow a harder sell," he said.
Forbes, a Baptist who started the Congressional Prayer Caucus in 2005, is not using the distinction against LeGrow, but some of his supporters are. The person who introduced Forbes at a luncheon meeting of the South Richmond Rotary Club two weeks ago stressed the importance of re-electing Forbes because of LeGrow's beliefs.
Forbes is paying little attention to LeGrow. He hasn't engaged him in a debate or joint appearance.
LeGrow said he did meet Forbes at a parade. Forbes was at the front of the parade and he was at the back, he said, but he made a point of seeking out Forbes and shaking his hand.
As for the issues, LeGrow favors health-care reform but says the legislation did not go far enough. He favored inclusion of a public option to compete with private insurers.
Forbes voted against the health-care overhaul. In a speech on the floor of the House, he said Americans were rejecting what he called the bill's implicit message -- that "money is no object."
The Democrat favors cap-and-trade legislation, meant to minimize greenhouse-gas emissions. Forbes voted against the measure.
LeGrow says he wants to create green jobs to help an environment that has been damaged by global warming. Forbes has proposed a New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence. It would bring scientists and researchers together in a competition to determine how to reduce America's energy's dependence by 50 percent over the next 10 years.
LeGrow thinks President Barack Obama's stimulus package helped revive the economy and created millions of jobs.
"The bank bailouts and stimulus package were needed to prevent this Great Recession from turning into the second Great Depression," LeGrow said.
Forbes voted against the stimulus. He said that after Americans lost trillions of net worth in the economic downturn, the question was "whether or not we are simply going to redistribute what's left, or whether we're going to rebuild what we lost."
Forbes says he is one of only 17 members of Congress to vote against every bailout and stimulus bill under the Bush and Obama administrations.
Though Forbes describes himself as a fiscal conservative, LeGrow says Forbes isn't, because he voted for the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Forbes wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone. LeGrow would extend the cuts for all but those making more than $250,000 a year.
This is LeGrow's first run for public office. Forbes, a lawyer from Chesapeake, first ran for the House of Delegates in 1989. He was elected to the state Senate in 1997.
Forbes, who also is a former chairman of the state Republican Party, first was elected to Congress to complete the term of Rep. Norman Sisisky, a Democrat who died in 2001.
Forbes is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Fort Lee is in the district.
He is working to keep open the U.S. Joint Forces Command, based in Hampton Roads. Including civilians and contractors, the operation has more than 5,700 employees, many of whom live and work in the 4th District.
LeGrow, a kidney specialist, practiced medicine in Emporia for 29 years before retiring from his nephrology practice in 2008. He said he decided to run for Congress because of his concerns about the mounting federal debt and about global warming.
He said he originally located in Emporia because it needed a dialysis unit and he felt comfortable in a small-town setting.
The 4th District includes all or part of 18 counties and cities, among them the counties of Chesterfield, Amelia and Dinwiddie, and the cities of Petersburg, Hopewell and Colonial Heights.
The district voted narrowly for Obama in 2008, when Forbes defeated Democrat Andrea Miller by 20 percentage points.