Counting down to caucuses, Cockburn returns to fire hall

Optimism, enthusiasm and big smiles marked the crowd of Democrats assembled at the Washington Fire Hall for Saturday’s Bluegrass Brunch.

Spirits were lifted by the toe-tapping music of “Smiggy” Smith and Jonathan Marquisee but the big boost came from the prospect of unseating the 5th District Republican incumbent in the November 2018 midterm elections. Partisans about 200 strong strategized, donated, signed on as volunteers and listened as two of the four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination made a pitch for support in the April 14 caucuses.

The applause was loud and long for both, but this was a hometown crowd for the hometown candidate, and Leslie Cockburn from Castleton clearly had the edge.

“My campaign started in this room,” Cockburn began, recalling the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates’ race that brought Democratic hopeful Tristan Shields to the Washington Fire Hall. A campaigner with a guitar, Tristan sang “Stand by Me,” and Cockburn did just that, deciding that night to run for Congress. In the time since, Cockburn has crisscrossed the state seven days a week for seven months, meeting with urban, suburban and rural Virginians, and “listening, listening, listening.” And she’s enlisted an army of supporters — over 700 volunteers and nearly 2,000 donors.

The former investigative journalist and producer of 60 Minutes addressed specific concerns gathered on that long listening tour. She decried the Trump administration’s proposed tariffs and looming trade war with China that would hurt the Commonwealth’s producers of soybeans, apples, wine and pork and wreak havoc on the “wood basket of Virginia,” which exports timber to China.

She criticized the appointment of Gina Haspel to head the Central Intelligence Agency, describing her as a “torturer” who ran a secret “black ops” prison in Thailand and destroyed 92 torture tapes, and she called out Scott Pruitt, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, for dismantling environmental protections. Cockburn also voiced opposition to the proposed fracked gas pipelines across Virginia, focusing specifically on the imperative of fighting “eminent domain for private gain.”

Abandoning his regular stump speech, Andrew Sneathern, former prosecutor, city attorney and civil rights lawyer with a private law practice in Charlottesville, hit the big themes.

He spoke movingly of the need to defeat hateful ideology, the importance of treating people as equals, regardless of race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation, and the urgency of defending the basics — from the underpinnings of democracy to protection of the environment.

And Sneathern concluded by promising to keep on working just as hard to elect a Democrat to represent Rappahannock County and the rest of the sprawling 5th District, no matter who is the party’s candidate after the caucuses.