WAKEFIELD, Va. (AP) — U.S. Sen Mark Warner touted his bipartisan bona fides Wednesday in rural Virginia at the 66th annual Shad Planking, a political rite of spring in the Old Dominion.
Warner, a Democrat, told a largely Republican crowd of several hundred there are people of good will in both major political parties and more bipartisan relationship are needed.
"One of the things we need to strive after is to try and make sure that we forge bipartisan relationships" Warner said.
After his speech, Warner told reporters that he has a strong record of reaching across the aisle in the Senate on a variety of issues, most notably on budget issues.
Warner's potential Republican opponent, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, also attended the annual beer-and-fish political picnic but was not a featured speaker.
Gillespie said he plans on running a campaign that has a positive message while also highlighting Warner's ties to President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Gillespie campaign has previously attacked Warner for his support of the Affordable Care Act.
"Anybody seeking re-election needs to be held accountable for his record," Gillespie said.
Held at the Wakefield Sportsmen's Club, the Shad Planking historically has been a must-attend event for Virginia politicians and candidates. Some Democratic candidates have skipped the party in recent years as the event has titled heavily Republican.
During his speech, Warner joked that as a Virginia Democrat he was becoming an "endangered species."
Groups like the National Rifle Association and the tea party group Americans for Prosperity had tents at the event. So did groups that support Confederate history, and several attendees wore Confederate flag stickers.
In the middle of the 20th century, Shad Planking began as an event where the segregationist Democratic machine would select candidates for statewide office.
"When I was a kid, only white males went to this and everybody wore a coat and tie," said Robert Bain, chairman of the event, who added that the event has striven to become more inclusive over the years.
The Shad Planking is sponsored by the Wakefield Ruritan Club, which donates the proceeds to charity.
This was fourth time Warner, a former governor who is seeking a second term as senator, has been a speaker at the event.