The mysteries of Shad Planking revealed

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The mysteries of Shad Planking revealed

Don’t ask us why, but it cannot be denied that greasy, indigestible foodstuffs and electoral politics fit together like William Howard Taft and his seven-foot presidential tub. From Iowa legend Tom Harkin’s annual Steak Fry to Governor Sarah Palin’s Moose-Meat-and-Whale-Blubber Barbeque (O.K., we made that one up), it seems like every state in the union has at least one artery-clogging culinary event that attracts office-seekers like a corrupt legislature attracts lobbyists.

Can we really consider Creigh Deeds a viable candidate for governor if he misses the annual festival of flayed fish?

Well, Virginia’s own version of this vote-chasing gustatory get-together—the exquisitely named Shad Planking—is right around the corner, and we simply wouldn’t be fulfilling our sacred journalistic duties if we didn’t take a moment to stop and smell the deep-bodied herring.

First, a bit of history. Legend has it that shad planking (the practice, not the event) was introduced to Virginia in the 1930’s by a fish-lovin’ young fellow named Paul Cox. Seems like young Mr. Cox wanted to celebrate the start of the fishing season, so he invited 25 of his closest friends to Wrenn’s Mill, on the James River, where he proceeded to blow all of their minds by nailing a bunch of oily little shad to hardwood planks and smoking them over an open fire. Cox’s shindig soon became an annual event, and small talk about tide levels and moonshine quality eventually gave way to spirited arguments about zoning issues and local senate candidates. Voila! A political tradition was born.

Fast forward to tomorrow, April 15, when the 61st Annual Shad Planking kicks off with a bang (or at least a sizzle). Now, as political theater, the annual Plank is much like the shad itself: thin and bony. There’s rarely much red meat for the crowds, and the candidates usually give lighthearted, self-effacing speeches.

Still, for lovers of electoral intrigue, there are still a couple of salty storylines. The first is the mysterious absence of gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, who is forgoing the event for a campaign swing across southwest Virginia. Now, it’s true that the traditional Shad Planking “sign wars” are probably a lost cause for Deeds, since the cash-happy Terry McAuliffe (who just announced a stunning $4.2 million quarterly fundraising haul) will surely blanket every available surface with his campaign colors. But c’mon! A politician skipping the Plank is like a member of Mötley Crüe strolling past a strip club—it’s just not done.

The second juicy tidbit involves our old friend Jeff Frederick, who was unceremoniously booted from his position as chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia a few weeks back. (Making him, believe it or not, the sixth RPV chair to be ousted by the party in the last six years.) Frederick has already informed The Washington Post that he plans to run for the position again, so we can only hope that he kicks off his campaign by showing up at the Plank and throwing a handful of piping-hot shad in GOP gubernatorial candidate (and emerging party boss) Bob McDonnell’s face.

Sure, it probably won’t happen—but we can dream, can’t we?

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