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Montgomery County prosecutor Chris Obenshain won the Republican nomination for Virginia’s newly drawn 41st House of Delegates District on Thursday.
At a mass meeting held at the CrossPointe Conference Center in Christiansburg, Obenshain received 294 votes from his fellow party members, while challenger Lowell Bowman, a contractor and small business owner, received 213.
Created as part of the redistricting approved by the Virginia Supreme Court in 2021, the 41st District has no incumbent. It covers most of Montgomery County and parts of western Roanoke County.
In November, Obenshain will face Democratic candidate Lily Franklin, former chief of staff for Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke.
As people registered for the meeting outside late Thursday afternoon, both candidates shook hands with voters and passed out campaign stickers. Jim Korb of Ironto sang Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” and other songs while voters mingled and ate pizza.
Daniel Sterling of Blacksburg said he attended the mass meeting to support Obenshain. Sterling formerly served in the National Guard. He liked that Obenshain currently serves in the Army Reserve and felt Obenshain had a more organized campaign than Bowman. “I want someone who can win the general election,” he said.
Shirley Bain of Christiansburg brought her daughter Skylar Bain, 14, to the mass meeting to support Lowell Bowman. Bain got to know Bowman and his wife Stevie through work with Moms for Liberty in Montgomery County, a conservative activism group. Stevie Bowman is the group’s chair.
“He’s a hard worker,” Shirly Bain said of Bowman. “He’s a businessman. He’s not a career politician. He wants to see better things in schools.”
Bain’s mother-in-law Joyce Bain, who also attended the meeting to support Bowman, was frustrated the seat wasn’t selected through a firehouse primary where people could vote and then leave. “The majority of us already know who we’re going to vote for,” she said.
Instead, voters signed up to vote and then listened to both candidates give short speeches before waiting to cast their votes.
Jo Anne Price, chair of the Republican Party in Montgomery County, said the mass meeting was exactly what voters needed. “We energized our party and that needed to happen,” she said.
Bowman previously ran for office in 2021, when he sought the Republican nomination to represent the 7th House of Delegates District. Marie March won that nomination and later the seat.
Co-owner of Bowman-Griffin General Contractors, LLC, Bowman has said he ran for the nomination primarily as a response to how poorly he feels his daughter was treated by the Montgomery County School System after she was allegedly raped by another student.
He is outspoken about his support for allowing public education funds to be used for students to attend private schools or to homeschool. Stevie Bowman homeschools their daughter and two sons.
As for the issues, Bowman has said on his web site that he would support legislation that protects “life beginning at conception” and that the constitution “is the only permit needed to own a firearm.”
Speaking to the voters Thursday, Bowman said he wanted to go to the General Assembly to “keep the government off our backs and out of our lives.”
In a nod to his opponent, Bowman asked the crowd whether they thought Richmond had enough lobbyists and lawyers. “I think the lawyers will do just fine without one more lawyer representing,” he said.
During his turn to speak, Obenshain said he was proud of his work as assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Montgomery County.
“I am an experienced prosecutor and I’m proud of my job and the work that I do every day to protect this community and to serve the public,” he said.
Obenshain has also served in the Army Reserve for two decades. He’s currently a major in the JAG Corps.
Obenshain comes from a political family. His father, Joe Obenshain, ran for state senate in 2003. His uncle Richard “Dick” Obenshain was running as the Republican nominee in Virginia for the United States Senate when he was killed in an airplane crash. His cousin Mark Obenshain is a state senator from Harrisonburg.
Obenshain came to the mass meeting boasting numerous endorsements from GOP leaders. Those included Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sherri Blevins, Roanoke County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Holohan, Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares.
While Obenshain has described himself as “unashamedly pro-life,” he declined to tell Cardinal News what restrictions to abortion he would support. He received an AQ rating from the National Rifle Association. That’s equivalent to an A rating for a candidate with a voting record. Candidates without voting records answer questionnaires about their views.
In Richmond, Obenshain has said he will work to bring tax relief to working Virginians. He’s also an advocate of allowing public education funds to be used for students to attend private schools or to homeschool.
At the end of March, Bowman had raised $52,269 in campaign funds, with $50,000 coming out of his own pocket, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Obenshain had raised $77,037 as of the end of March, according to VPAP. He donated $32,000 to his own campaign.
During a short acceptance speech, Obenshain thanked everyone who participated in the mass meeting. “I’m just so grateful for this opportunity to run and serve all of you,” he said. “Let’s go win.”
After learning Obenshain would be the party’s nominee, Bowman thanked everyone who supported him. He declined to say whether he would be supporting Obenshain in November. “One of us had to lose so that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say,” he said. “I’ve got to get my signs down. I’m tired.”
Franklin released this statement Thursday:
“My campaign has been on the ground connecting with voters since December. When I speak with hard-working folks in the district, they don’t talk about culture war topics; they want to know how I’m going to help them keep down the cost of housing and get access to things like childcare, healthcare and jobs. My vision for Southwest Virginia is one where folks thrive in all stages of life. I look forward to debating these issues with my opponent on the campaign trail.”
For a full list of all the nomination contests in Southwest and Southside, see our election guide.