A new book written by a Shenandoah Valley native describes the life and legacy of Richard Obenshain, known as "the architect of the modern Republican Party in Virginia."
Joel Hensley first got the idea to write a book about Obenshain while studying the history of politics in Virginia at James Madison University and learning about the evolution of the Republican Party in Virginia. No one had written a book yet about Obenshain, even though he played a critical role in crafting Virginia's conservative GOP.
Hensley independently published "Richard Obenshain: Spirit of Fire" this summer, and it goes through the history of the Obenshain family and Richard 's active role in Republican politics and his desire to hold elected office.
Obenshain lost twice, once for Congress in 1964 and again for state attorney general in 1969. He became state party chairman in 1972. In 1978, he was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, but he died at the age of 42 in a plane crash two months after securing the party nomination.
Obenshain was born in Abingdon and grew up in Blacksburg as the son of a Virginia Tech professor.. For years, he helped build a Republican Party that would make Virginia politically competitive as well as establish the the conservative alternative for a once-heavily rural state with fast-growing suburbs.
Back then, the Byrd Machine — a political organization led by U.S. Sen. Harry Byrd Sr. — ruled the commonwealth. Democrats were conservatives, and the few Republicans were moderate. In the decades after World War II, the Democratic Party broke into two, and the Republican Party began winning elections.
Roanoke attorney Linwood Holton — who was elected 50 years ago today — became Virginia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Obenshain was Holton's running mate, but he lost.
Obenshain was to the right of Holton, and the book gets into how the two clashed over the direction of the party. In 1978, Obenshain defeated Holton for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
If you're just a casual observer of politics, the book can be challenging at times when it gets into the weeds of politicking and election procedures. But as the first book to collect biographical information on Obenshain in one place, it's a useful read if you want to understand Obenshain's role in Virginia politics. His work continues to influence politics in Virginia to this day.
You can order a copy of the book at www.dickobenshain.com.