STAUNTON — Tareq Salahi gained notoriety in 2009 for crashing a White House state dinner to which he and his then-wife were reportedly not invited.
Now, the former owner of a Northern Virginia winery wants to take his fiscally conservative and socially moderate views to Richmond. He's running as an independent candidate for governor in the fall against Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
"This is a serious and a real campaign,'' Salahi told a small audience Saturday morning at the SWAC Political Breakfast at Shoney's in Staunton.
"Less government is more,'' he said, charging that too much regulation can kill a business.
How would this resident of Front Royal defeat Virginia's top prosecutor, Attorney General Cuccinelli, and McAuliffe, a political insider who has run the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008?
"I'm the underdog,'' Salahi said. "It's exciting to be the underdog. We're a grassroots campaign."
Salahi is spending this weekend up and down the Interstate 81 corridor. He will pay close attention to minorities (his website is available in Spanish), and he plans to visit colleges.
Of his opponents, he said, "one is dictating, and the other is bringing in big dollars from big corporations."
The latter reference is to McAuliffe, a millionaire businessman, and the former to Cuccinelli, who has fashioned an activist streak while serving as Virginia's attorney general since 2010.
Salahi said his opponents represent the extremes of the political spectrum while he is a centrist.
"I'm about everybody in Virginia,'' he said.
Salahi wants Virginia voters to gaze beyond the major political parties.
"Look at the candidates,'' he said. "This is about your future. Look at who the candidate is, what is good for Virginia and the future."
It is a road show for sure. Salahi is collecting signatures to appear on the November ballot as an independent.
He travels in a Suburban with his campaign manager, but he said the campaign soon will have a 55-foot bus. While he has traversed thousands of miles since declaring his candidacy last spring, he anticipates his journey will be 200,000 miles before it is over.
Meanwhile, Del. Rob Bell also spoke Saturday at the SWAC Political Breakfast. The Albemarle County resident is seeking the Republican nomination for Virginia attorney general against state Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg.
Bell describes his campaign against Obenshain as a gentlemanly one, as both have worked together on General Assembly legislation. He thinks his four years as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Orange County distinguish him as the best candidate to succeed Cuccinelli.
Bell said the attorney general must defend the Constitution, but also must serve as Virginia's top lawyer. During his time as an prosecutor in the late 1990s and early part of this millennium, he handled all kinds of cases.
He thinks his race against Obenshain is a competitive one, and believes that he "will be an effective attorney general."
"It's an exciting job,'' he said whether it means defending the Constitution or fighting crime.
The Republican State Convention is set for May 17-18 in Richmond.