Democrat counting on Republicans to join challenge of Garrett
A “Rally Before the Caucuses” was held Sunday at a private residence off Long Mountain Road to benefit Rappahannock-based congressional hopeful Leslie Cockburn, who if she were to win the Democratic nomination over her three opponents — Ben Cullop, Andrew Sneathern and Roger Dean Huffstetler — would face incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Garrett in November’s midterm election.
But first, every county in Virginia’s sprawling 5th congressional district of 735,000 residents will hold a Democratic caucus between April 14 through 21. The Rappahannock County caucus will be held April 14, one of the district’s first. County Democrats will vote for four delegates and two alternates (all from Rappahannock) who will then nominate their chosen candidate at the party’s May 5 convention in Farmville.
“We now have over 500 volunteers on this campaign,” Cockburn updated the rally’s attendees, who included Rappahannock Supervisor John Lesinski and Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan. “I have indeed put over 37,000 miles on the car” — referring to the distance a candidate in the 5th district, which stretches from the North Carolina border practically to Maryland, must travel to campaign.
“People up north in this district don’t know much about Southside,” observed Cockburn, a former journalist who launched her congressional bid 10 months ago. “Let me say every rural county in this district is like Rappahannock. Every sort of person that you will meet in Rappahannock you will also meet in Charlotte County, you will meet in Halifax, in Franklin, in Lunenburg.
“It’s great because you can see we have the same interests,” she continued, providing as one example those “who care deeply about the land, care deeply about the all the conservation issues we care about.”
Another shared concern, Cockburn said, surrounds healthcare, particularly threats to Medicare and Medicaid. And she turned to opioids, which know no county boundaries: “We have an opioid plague here. In some counties it is completely devastating.”
In the city of Danville and county of Halifax, she said, one hears the familiar refrain, “We need jobs!”
“A little bit of investigation will tell you that in [those areas] we have 2,500 open jobs right now — from highly skilled to working at McDonald’s,” Cockburn revealed. “The biggest problem is people cannot pass a drug test [to work in the jobs]. So if you’re going to tackle employment in Congress you’re also going to have to tackle opioids treatment.”
As for her potential Republican opponent currently seated on Capitol Hill, the Democrat charged: “Tom Garrett has the worst voting record of any freshman [lawmaker] I have ever seen,” including on healthcare, the environment, and gun issues.
And were she to face Garrett one-on-one, Cockburn said it’s been asked of her more than once, “Do you think a woman can win?”
“And some of my [all-male Democratic] rivals have [asked] that, too. If you look at the statistics, 17 Democratic men failed to get this seat. Two Democratic women have failed to get this seat — 17, 2. This is a tough district for Democrats, no question,” she said. “But since we’ve been looking closely at the figures . . . we can see that there are actually more committed Democrats in this district, in spite of gerrymandering, than there are Republicans.”
Asked by one audience member whether she would need to attract Republican support to win the seat, Cockburn replied that at one of her events last week in Fauquier County “half the people in the room were Republicans. And they’re supporting us!”
She added that “in every county [of the district] there is a battle going on between moderate Republicans and Tea Party Republicans. And in some counties it’s very vicious.”
Many of the moderate GOP members, she said, have complained that “‘Garrett’s office is closed to us, he’s not accepting us, his views are not our views.’ You would think that the [National] Cattlemen’s Association — rather important here — would be welcomed by Tom Garrett. No,” she claimed. “They told me, ‘We never get in there, we don’t see him, he doesn’t care about agriculture, he doesn’t care about cattle.’ There’s something wrong with that.”
On the issue of gun control, Cockburn said not only did she grow up hunting, “my mother was an excellent shot.”
“I got my first hunting license as a teenager. I understand the hunter’s culture,” the candidate said. “But on the other hand as an adult I covered six wars. I’ve been on many front lines, many front lines. I’ve been surrounded by conventional weapons that were actually being used, whether it’s a Scud missile, an AR-15 . . . cluster bombs, whatever. I’ve watched two cities destroyed by this.
“We do not want that to happen here. We do not want people to come into Charlottesville for a rally carrying heavy weapons of war. We need to make distinction between a hunting weapon . . . and a weapon of war. They are very different.”