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At an annual political event on Saturday, political candidates got an earful of mountain music and local issues.
The somewhat ironically named Poor Man’s Dinner — it reflects the humble Southern fare on the menu, not the financial status of the attendees — is an annual tradition during Galax’s annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention.
Over 350 politicians from all over Virginia, political candidates and community leaders from attended the picnic in Felts Park on Saturday, sponsored by the Twin County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The dinner is a regular stop for state political candidates and the turnout was impressive, as expected, in a hotly contested election year.
The dinner included an appearance by former governor Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate this year. He and Republican opponent George Allen are vying for a seat that will be vacant after Sen. Jim Webb retires.
“This is a tremendous piece of America,” said Kaine of Galax, a place he’s visited frequently and where he has befriended local old-time and bluegrass musicians. “If we step back, we can realize how very special Galax really is.”
Allen, a former governor and senator, didn’t come to Galax on Saturday, but his wife attended the event.
“It’s a treat to be in Galax,” said Susan Allen. “When people leave here, they take the music with them.”
On Friday and Saturday, Kaine traveled through Bristol, Abingdon and Galax, making a stop at Warrick Hall at Galax Presbyterian Church for a tea and at Barr’s Fiddle Shop, where he played a couple of tunes on the harmonica with the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. His wife, Anne Holton, flatfooted to old-time music.
“What’s different this year is my wife Anne was able to come along,” said Kaine. “It’s a very happy time for us to be here.”
Kaine said he has worked closely with Galax Mayor C.M. Mitchell and City Manager Keith Barker to help expand jobs into Galax. “We have to all work together to find solutions…,” said Kaine. “I believe Virginia is doing a lot of things right, and we have some things that we can teach the rest of the nation.”
He wrapped up the dinner by playing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” on the harmonica with area musicians.
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th District) also made an appearance at the Poor Man’s Dinner, saying “it’s great to be among friends.”
Anthony Flaccavento, a Democrat running against Griffith, appeared alongside Kaine at Barr’s and at the dinner, speaking of the joys of being in Galax.
State Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) thanked politicians and community leaders for attending the event and recognized Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Bristol), who was in attendance. Both men represent the Twin Counties in the Virginia House of Delegates.
“You’ve elected a great man to represent you,” Carrico said of O’Quinn.
Corey Stewart, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in the 2013 election, also attended the event.
Marty Hall, a chamber board member and one of the event’s leading sponsors, received an award for making the event possible each year, along with George Cooley, who has been a long-time member of the regional Chamber of Commerce.