A Focus Group of One: Integrity, Country First Wanted
Autumn should remind any political activist of one of the best ways to spend time outdoors in Virginia, aside from apple-picking and hay rides: knocking on doors. I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Saturday to ride my motorcycle down to Springfield to door-knock for Democratic Senator George Barker. George is newly embattled due to redistricting and an aggressive targeting plan by Republicans to re-take the State Senate, where Democrats currently have a one seat majority.
As I rode down South Van Dorn Street under a crisp blue sky, I passed a virtual forest of “Barker not Baker” signs. George’s opponent is Miller Baker. Baker is at once an estimable and very conservative opponent — a partner at McDermott Will and Emery, Federalist Society activist, and former aide in Ronald Reagan’s DOJ and Orrin Hatch’s U.S. Senate office, who has made attacks on “ObamaCare” a signature of this campaign for state office.
Over the years, I’ve found that you can learn a lot more from a single in-depth conversation with a citizen who’s given some thought to issues and politics and is willing to talk frankly than dozens of polling results, news articles, and social media posts. So it was with a long conversation I had with one voter — I’ll call her Susan — in Springfield.
Susan was a friendly, middle-aged, Caucasian voter who considers herself independent and who has a job connected to government contracting — very common in Northern Virginia, where many voters have some connection to the federal government.
I was door-knocking for the Democratic coordinated campaign and so carrying literature and a script not only for George, but for Sharon Bulova, the Chair of the Fairfax Couny Board of Supervisors, and Delegate Vivian Watts. I asked Susan what she thought about re-electing George, Sharon, and Vivian, and her answer surprised me. “I don’t know,” she mused. “I find myself thinking a lot recently we should just throw ‘em all out.” All of them? I asked. “Yep — all of ‘em,” she said, firmly.
I asked her why she felt that way. “I’m just sick of all of it,” she said. “All the bickering. It’s like nobody wants to put country first.”
We talked about presidential politics. “I still like Obama,” she said. “I voted for him. I think he’s trying his best.” I asked her about the current Republican presidential field. “I don’t like any of ‘em. They’re the party of no.”
I asked her what she was looking for the most in a candidate. She paused a moment, framed in her doorway, thinking. “I’m looking for integrity. Someone who’s not just about fighting. Our country’s going down. We’re in a tough spot. I want someone who’s working for answers.”
We talked about the things she cared about government dealing with. She spoke movingly about treatment for the least-well off — the poor and elderly.
A lot of her answers seemed to be about federal issues, so I asked what she thought about Virginia. “Well, we’re better off than a lot of other parts of the country,” she said. “But I still don’t like that crowd down in Richmond. McDonnell…” she paused, a grimace coming onto her face. “I don’t like what he’s doing.” But when I pressed her for examples on Governor McDonnell, she couldn’t come up with any. I think it’s possible that she was referring to Attorney General Cuccinelli instead, though I can’t know that for sure.
She left me with a very friendly handshake. As I walked onto the next doors, I reflected on the lessons from this focus group of one: that our leaders today need to demonstrate that they are focusing on country, not just party; that they are interested in solutions and not just political victories; that voters are looking for integrity instead of just professional qualifications; that extremely partisan behavior such as what we’ve seen from Attorney General Cuccinelli can splash over onto everyone else; and that President Obama still retains some sympathy.
Granted, Virginia’s Senate Democrats have a dogfight ahead of them. And I believe they are collectively and individually doing a good job proving to voters — both Democrats and independents — their comparative strength on these points. George Barker is doing very well on every front, including outraising his opponent and, putting out the aggressive field program, and, as I saw when I rode back to Arlington, putting out enormous signs all over the district with his full name — “George Lincoln Barker” — in foot-high letters.
But only November will tell, which is why every concerned Virginian should get out on the campaign trail between now and Tuesday, November 8 — click here to volunteer.