Democrats back an old Clinton foe in Virginia

Democrats hoping to turn Virginia blue have put their hopes in a state senate candidate who represented one of President Bill Clinton's prominent sexual misconduct accusers and downplays his affiliation with the Democratic Party.

Dan Gecker served as legal counsel to Kathleen Willey, who accused Clinton of grabbing and kissing her during a 1993 visit to the White House. Now he is running as a Democrat for an open seat in the commonwealth's 10th senate district.

Gecker, a Chesterfield County supervisor, has avoided tying himself too closely to the the party of 2016 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and her husband. He campaigned for his current position as an independent and makes no mention of party affiliation in his latest television ads. 

The Democrats, on the other hand, are eager to line up with Gecker. 

Facing a glaring Republican advantage in state governments, the Democratic Party is hungry for state offices. Gov. Terry McAuliffe holds the executive branch in Virginia, but Democrats face a 67-32-seat deficit in the House of Delegates and trail the GOP 21-19 in the state senate. 

In one of the few states holding elections this year, Democrats hope to flip that senate number. And Gecker's quest for the seat of moderate Republican John Watkins is a key race.

The 10th is a classic swing district that includes portions of Richmond as well as a chunk of suburbs west of the capital and south of the James River. The sometimes-maverick Watkins, who announced his retirement earlier this year, has held the seat since 1998. The district, which was substantially redrawn in 2010, voted for McAuliffe in the 2013 gubernatorial race and Democrat Mark Warner in the 2014 U.S. Senate race. President Obama carried the 10th in 2008 and 2012. 

McAuliffe and Democratic legislative leaders are throwing all their weight in support of Gecker, a real estate developer and investor. Gecker's new television ad picks up a theme from McAuliffe's successful gubernatorial campaign: jobs and economic development. Touting the arrival of retail giant Amazon and other large companies to Chesterfield in recent years, Gecker's ad highlights the pro-business, pro-growth policies associated with McAuliffe and other "New Democrat" centrists who emerged with Bill Clinton's presidency. 

The ads do not name Gecker's party or mention his support of Willey, who claimed in 1998 that Clinton accosted her during his first term. Willey was also subpoenaed to testify in the Paula Jones lawsuit and was subjected to intense media scrutiny -- as well, she claims, as a campaign of threats and harassment by Clinton henchmen. 

Gecker has continued to support Willey in the years since. In 2008 he told a Richmond weekly that he not only believed but had "personal, off-the-record" reasons to be convinced of the claims that she was threatened. 

If that makes him an odd match with McAuliffe, a lifelong ally and friend of the Clintons, Gecker's Republican opponent, Glen Sturtevant has not pressed the issue. In a new series of "Conversations with Glen" web ads, Sturtevant, a Richmond School Board member, touches on the main themes of his campaign -- education, taxes, public safety and repealing Obamacare. 

Questions about Gecker's service as legal counsel to Willey did arise during the Democratic primary. Gecker brushed off the matter and went on to win a three-way race for the nomination with 46 percent of the vote. 

As the New Democrats face rising challenges from the party's leftward base, Gecker has also been pressed by the grassroots. A website registered by proxy with the URL gecker4senate.com lists his affiliation with Willey and other centrist positions to argue that Gecker is "not a Democrat." 

To date, Stutevant has raised $206,000 to Gecker's $500,000. The race also features a Libertarian, Carl Loser, and an Independent, Marleen Durfee.

Gecker and Willey did not respond to American Media Institute requests for comment.