Friday, May 9, 2008
Food for Thought from a Campaign Trail
I went to a political rally this week, something I honestly can’t remember doing since, maybe, high school, embarrassing though that statement may be. Probably because I have made several financial donations to the Democratic Party or to Democratic candidates (John Edwards and Hillary Clinton this time around), I last week got a recorded phone invitation to Mark Warner’s appearance in Charlottesville on his tour to kick off his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs due to the retirement of Senator John Warner. (In an interesting note, Mark Warner ran against John Warner in the 1996 Senate race, giving rise to the classic “Mark Not John” and “John Not Mark” bumper stickers.) For no good reason other than it seemed like the right thing to do, I decided to go.
It was an interesting, racially diverse crowd. The media put the size at around 300 people (they didn't mention the cute dog). I tried to get a photo of the African-American man wearing a large sign on his chest proclaiming the number of dead in Iraq (4,017 and counting), but couldn't get a good one that really showed the sign. Probably because it was 2:15 on a Tuesday afternoon, during finals week at the University of Virginia and the first week of AP exams at the local high schools, there were very few young people. Other than my older son, the only other student-appearing people I saw were the volunteers handing out literature, bumber stickers, etc. The crowd all looked to be my age or older—lots of retired people, again probably as a function of when the rally was held.
There was a parade of speakers before Warner took the stage; actually, the parade of speakers started before Warner even arrived at the rally. Perhaps the powers that be sensed the crowd was getting restless. It was interesting but otherwise unimportant that three of the five speakers were Davids. David Brown, former mayor of Charlottesville, acted as emcee introducing the other speakers, which included Dave Norris, the current mayor of Charlottesville, and David Toscano, another former mayor and the current Delegate representing Charlottesville in the Virginia General Assembly.
Warner was actually introduced by a Republican, local businessman Bill Crutchfield. In his remarks, Crutchfield noted that he had only supported two Democrats in his life: Don Beyer in 1997 and Mark Warner this year. My immediate (and continuing) thought was to wonder whether Crutchfield was supporting Beyer and Warner entirely on their own merits, since the Republican opponent in each case was/is Jim Gilmore who, in my humble opinion, was one of the worst governors Virginia has had since I moved here in 1969. Gilmore's following through on a campaign pledge to end or reduce the personal property tax on automobiles plunged the state into a revenue abyss from which Warner had to extricate us when he became the next governor. (Virginia has a built-in term limit on the governorship, not allowing two successive terms.)
Warner spoke quite comfortably without notes, though I imagine he had been using much the same script at each stop on his tour. As might be expected, he concentrated on his accomplishments as governor with an emphasis on the usual areas: the economy, energy, education, health care, etc. He got a large round of applause when he promised to place a priority on repairing or replacing the country's crumbling infrastructure. He repeatedly pledged to continue to try to work across party lines as he had as governor. He suggested that if elected he would try to find another four or five moderate Democratic Senators and an equal number of like-minded Republican Senators to form a group of "radical centrists" to work together to get needed legislation passed. Subvert from within? I like that!
It was most interesting seeing a candidate and hearing him speak on such intimate terms, just a few feet away rather than on TV or in a larger, impersonal setting. Candidates have always seemed more like celebrities than real people I might work with or go for coffee with. Perhaps because of the distance imparted by media coverage, they never really seem real. They seem surreal, someone (something?) created by the coverage they’re getting. Being able to shake hands with and wish good luck to Warner as he came down to mingle with the crowd after the rally had more significance than I expected it to. Just as working as an election official has helped me see the electoral process differently, going to a rally, especially a small, more personal one, is prompting me to think about political campaigns and candidates in a new light. I may not be the only one either, since my older son came home from the rally and registered on the Warner campaign's website offering to assist with issues research.
And if it wasn't already obvious, I shall eagerly cast my vote for Mark Warner for U.S. Senate in November, though once I hit the "Cast Vote" button and step back outside the voting booth, I will work to ensure that even those citizens who want to vote for his opponent have the opportunity to do so. Democracy ... it's a good thing! And, as I'm discovering, a personal one as well.