Rappahannock-based congressional candidate predicts a banner year for women
Rappahannock County’s Leslie Cockburn is confident that 2018 will be the year for women — across the country, on Capitol Hill, and into the sprawling 5th congressional district of Virginia, where the political candidate’s ultimate aim is to unseat Republican Rep. Tom Garrett.
“About 80 percent of the activists in the Democratic Party in the district are women,” Cockburn pointed out during an interview Monday morning in Sperryville. “There is something going on since the Trump election. And it was very evident during the [Ralph] Northam [gubernatorial] campaign.
“And it is happening nationally,” the Democrat added, “but you really see it happening in the district, and that is women saying, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’ You saw it in the elections of eleven women to the Virginia House of Delegates.”
Make that twelve women.
Unexpected word came Tuesday afternoon that Newport News Democrat Shelly Simonds had won her state House race by one vote — 11,608 to 11,607 — defeating Republican incumbent David Yancey, who owned the seat since 2011.
Before the race’s recount, which is still unofficial, Yancey had held a 10-vote lead. If Simonds’ victory holds, she will also have achieved split control for Democrats in the House chamber, ending 17 years of Republican control.
Cockburn is not only keeping her eyes on Virginia’s women candidates, but women office seekers from around the country, who are making political runs in record numbers.
“There’s a sense of 2018 being a women’s year on Capitol Hill,” she continued. “There are a ton of women, very qualified women, running — a lot of them coming from other careers, and it’s really a tidal wave. It’s really going to affect the election I think. Women’s issues are paramount for a lot of people.”
A prominent journalist, filmmaker and author, Cockburn said the election of President Trump, and his “attacks” on the Fourth Estate, are two of the reasons she decided to launch her congressional candidacy this past July, “because he was pointing at reporters and saying you are the enemy of the people, and that is something that is very un-American and shocking. And to do that to the FBI? It’s kind of beyond belief. But it means we all better stand up and do something about it.”
As so she is, spending half of 2017 traveling tens of thousands of miles into Virginia’s largest congressional district, consisting of 21 counties between Maryland and North Carolina, with the goal of in unseating the freshman incumbent Garrett, a former state senator who assumed office on Jan. 3.
“It’s really a 7 day a week job,” Cockburn said of her campaigning by car. “A lot of the counties feel that people ignore them, that they don’t pay attention to them, so I go to each county several times, five or six times, and attend events. And when you’re invited to an event you say yes!
“There are endless dinners, and meetings, and I go to look at farms, and schools. All of these you want to attend or else see firsthand, to learn what is actually happening out there in the whole district.”
Something she said her potential GOP opponent has failed to do during his first year in office.
“Tom Garrett has a reputation for having a closed door in his office, and you think that’s maybe just with the Democrats,” Cockburn said. “But, in fact, in talking to a lot of agriculture groups, poultry farmers, the cattlemen’s association, I asked them when is the last time you saw Tom Garrett, or else talked with him. And the cattlemen reply he doesn’t talk to us. So there’s a lack of communication that is very profound.”
But before Cockburn can challenge Garrett one-on-one, she must survive this spring’s district-wide caucuses, where she will face three fellow Democratic candidates: Ben Cullop, Roger Huffstetler, and Andrew Sneathern, all from the Charlottesville area.
“The caucuses are in March in each county, and then the convention will likely be the first week in May, although there’s no date yet,” she said. “I like the caucus convention for a few reasons: one, it’s much cheaper for the candidate, you don’t have to fight the battle twice on television; and two, you’re not attacking fellow Democrats.
“The main thing is it forces you . . . to build relationships in every county, which is a huge challenge, but really great. Because once you do it you realize that you have a base that is going to be very effective in the general election. It’s really a lot of territory to cover.”
Cockburn said the reception she’s received thus far “has been great, I’ve been very well received. And most of these counties don’t know where Rappahannock is, but they like the fact that Rappahannock is a rural county, because most of our district is rural. I find that even counties ‘Southside’ are not so different than Rappahannock — a very mixed and interesting population.”
She stressed that her entire campaign staff is from the 5th district, north to south: “Everybody has roots in their communities, so they don’t have to spend a lot of time learning things, and that’s important.”
Thus far there have been two candidate forums in the district, one in Charlottesville and the other at Fork Union. Cockburn would be delighted if a similar forum with all four Democratic candidates were to be held in Rappahannock County [more on that in the coming weeks].
Speaking of her Rappahannock home base, Cockburn said she was happy to see the dozens of “Hate Has No Home Here” signs appearing in front of homes and business throughout Rappahannock County, following an incident earlier this month when Ku Klux Klan pamphlets were randomly dropped in front of houses. She said the recent re-emergence of white supremacy groups is of particular concern in the 5th district, particularly around Charlottesville.
Does she see the racial hatred growing?
“I think it is getting worse because Trump has opened a Pandora’s box. People feel free to come out and say hateful things. [Residents] feel it, fear it,” she said. “I was talking to a law professor at UVA who is African American and he said, ‘You know, people say that these guys came from outside Charlottesville. But I live in Louisa, and I commute to Charlottesville, and I see these people every day. I see them at the gas station, I see them at the convenience store, I see them all around me.’
“So people are on edge,” Cockburn concluded. “And this is probably what the organizers of August 12 actually wanted. It’s probably the reason these guys came to Rappahannock. They come to a tolerant place to cause alarm and concern. We really are on the front line on this in this district.”