The 14th Senate District Republican firehouse primary was a blowout victory for Delegate John Cosgrove. The final score was:
John Cosgrove: 1362
Chris Stearns: 552
Bill Haley: 138
Here is what we learned from this experience.
1. Successful candidates have non-political interests which they express through dedicated community involvement.
The Virginia General Assembly is officially a part-time legislature. Members of the Virginia General Assembly must hold jobs like the people they serve to make ends meet when the legislature is not in session.
John Cosgrove does not have a day job in politics or a job that is intimately connected to politics. He is an engineer and a musician. He is an active participant in his church. He is a youth football coach. He has worked on charitable efforts alongside civic organizations like Rotary and the Ruritans. Cosgrove is a community leader.
Chris Stearns, despite being a native to the region, does not have non-political community ties in the 14th Senate District nor did he have non-political community ties in the Senate District in which he previously resided before moving several weeks ago to challenge Cosgrove. As a 26 year-old Chairman of the 3rd Congressional District RPV Committee, Stearns is well known across the state within the Young Republican Federation of Virginia. However, he is not as well known among the more mature generation and key leaders in the RPV. (I will discuss the chasm between the RPV and the YRFV in a future article.)
Stearns made a name for himself working in politics. He has worked statewide for the Campaign for Liberty, Ron Paul for President, and Susan Stimpson for Lieutenant Governor. He became the 3rd Congressional District Chair of the RPV during the 2011-2012 takeover of the RPV by the Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty.
However, Stearns’ non-political resume is very thin. There is no indication that Stearns has attended a junior college or four-year college and earned a degree. I know that value of a college education, graduate school, and law school is nowhere near as high as marketed today (it is an outright scam in some cases). Four year college does not make sense for everyone, but vocational training and an associates degree from a respected junior college is so easy and affordable to achieve in-person and online. An associates degree would improve an individual’s trade skills and have the corollary benefit of boosting an individual’s political marketability. Unless one is a world-class athlete, entertainer, or prodigious businessman, voters expect additional education beyond high school for their candidates. It is what it is. I don’t dictate what is important to the electorate. Stearns does not have at least a junior college degree. That in and of itself is never disqualifying trait for public office, but it invites further questions to discover what life experiences the candidate has garnered that would exceed the benefits of a college education.
Stearns’ LinkedIn profile and Facebook profile indicates that he is the production manager at Custom Closets & Specialties. This is not a multi-million dollar project rivaling Facebook’s revenues that would compel a business person to skip college entirely. Stearns does not indicate that he is the owner and the business is not under his name. Yet, his mail pieces deceive the voters by saying that he is a business owner and “entrepreneur.” Once again, we have more questions than answers as to who Chris Stearns is and why we ought to trust him to advocate for the community.
People in the 14th Senate District know who John Cosgrove is. Nobody knows who Chris Stearns is outside of politics and the YRFV. People will not vote for someone they do not know.
2. People vote for people they know, like, and trust.
Character counts. Not only do the voters know who John Cosgrove is, Cosgrove is a likable and trustworthy guy. He is the same person politically and non-politically. He listens to and respects your opinion and ideas. When he disagrees, as we all do with each other, he can articulate his reasons for disagreement without condescension and arrogance. Cosgrove is more interested in finding areas of agreement with people than finding reasons for division.
I can tell you that as a political consultant myself, I have NEVER had a client with whom I found agreement on everything. If I demanded my clients to toe my party line, I would have no clients! (I remind you that everything I write on this outlet and elsewhere are my own views and do not reflect the views of any past or current employer or client. Sometimes I don’t even agree with myself.)
Cosgrove built a voting record during his time in the House of Delegates that is reflective of the needs of his constituents and it just so happens that his voting record also happens to be one of the most conservative voting records in the House.
Meanwhile, Chris Stearns is not well known in the area in which he is a native. He is well known in the Young Republican Federation of Virginia, but he inadvertently mobilizes a lot of enemies in the YRFV because of his close association with a very polarizing employee of the Leadership Institute.
3. Firebombers rarely win elections.
People offer this advice for new candidates time and again. When you are running for your first political office, you do not throw punches right out of the gate. You have to introduce yourself to the voters. Open up about your personal life to the extent that is appropriate and build rapport with the electorate. Small talk make big deals. It helps if your first piece of literature describes you as a “mother of three children, accomplished public policy professional, avid runner and triathlete, adoption advocate, volunteer at a puppy shelter.” (Ahem, in the interest of privacy, all or parts of this may or may not be an actual ad copy written by me for a client’s palm card. This lady did win her election however, so I must have done something right?)
Stearns did not bother with such introductions and pleasantries. He firebombed on sight. He distorted John Cosgrove’s record and character. He stated that Cosgrove voted for Obamacare which is false. He stated that Cosgrove voted for “dangerous red light cameras” which happens to be regarded as a law enforcement tool for mainstream conservatives while the virulent anti-tax conservatives see red light cameras as a tax and a constitutional invasion of privacy. Never mind that the courts have ruled time and again that a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place and that the state has the power to enforce the laws. However, you would never expect anti-tax, anti-government conservatives to get the message.
4. The people support the compromise transportation bill.
If you want to blame a single person for Virginia’s transportation mess, blame former Governor and U.S. Senator Harry Byrd (D-VA). Do your research on his plan for the Commonwealth to buy up all the roads from the localities which ended up giving rural counties a disproportionate amount of influence on transportation in Virginia. Urban Virginia has been subsidizing rural Virginia roads ever since because unlike other states, transportation dollars raised within the county does not stay within the county.
Harry Byrd is long gone so we need to move forward. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan is the first serious plan to move Virginia forward that we have seen in decades. Republicans and Democrats came together to craft a compromise solution that would particularly prioritize areas of greatest need like John Cosgrove’s own Hampton Roads. John Cosgrove did the right thing for his district by voting in favor of the transportation bill.
John Cosgrove did the courageous thing by voting for the transportation bill. He knew that the far-right, anti-tax conservatives will blow one vote out of proportion and put a primary challenger against him if he voted for the transportation bill. Cosgrove could have done the politically expedient thing by voting “no” to stave off a primary challenger and he would have cruised to the State Senate with ease still.
Yet, Cosgrove does not represent the extremists in the House. Cosgrove represents the people. Cosgrove did what is best for the people and is willing to invite primary challengers if that is what is going to happen if he serves the people faithfully.
Using one vote and blowing it out of proportion to paint Cosgrove as a tax-hiker who is friendly with Obama’s policies is ridiculous for it blatantly ignores the countless votes Cosgrove made to lower taxes and advocate for the interests of taxpaying working families. Ronald Reagan said that a person who agrees with him 80 percent of the time is his friend, not his enemy. For the anti-tax conservatives and libertarians, someone who is agreeable 99 percent of the time is an unconstitutional, un-American, unworthy “socialist.” Hey guys, have fun destroying your allies so you can pave the way for someone who is agreeable 0 percent of the time to takeover.
5. Successful candidates build positive, uplifting communities around their campaigns.
This is a fact. Issues alone will not help you win the election. Issues alone might not even help you win the day.
Standing for the right issues attracts followers. However, people who stand for the right issues are a dime a dozen. What separates the elected officials from the mere activists? Building a positive, uplifting community with your followers that go well beyond the issues you advocate will turn your followers into friends who will stick with you for the long haul.
John Cosgrove succeeds in electoral politics because he has turned his political operation into a positive, uplifting community. I only worked for John for one day in his political career. Add another day if you want to count my time as a groupie and official photographer for his rock band.
May 9th, the day of the firehouse primary, was the first time I worked on John’s political campaign. I can attest that Team Cosgrove treats everyone like family. This urbane, sophisticated, urban creature of DC never once felt out of place among the Hampton Roads crowd and was welcomed like an old friend, not like someone just showing up for the very first time. The poll workers and door knockers present at the victory party were a diverse group – young, old, female, male, black, white, married, single, urban, rural, Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, DC, and even Maryland! The vast majority of Cosgrove’s workers are homegrown Hampton Roads talent. Team Cosgrove did not organize out of district and out of state supporters to come in to work, but Cosgrove’s cause was one that compelled out of town folks to carve out time in their schedules and make the trip down out of their own initiative and volition.
Meanwhile, Stearns’ campaign had to bus in a large number of Young Republicans affiliated with the YRFV and DCYR to work on his campaign. This is what happens when you are a Hampton Roads native, but never got connected to your community in a non-political way.
Building positive, uplifting communities around a political candidate vastly improves the staying power of that individual candidate. Campaigns built solely around issues will have expendable and replaceable candidates.
Unfortunately, that is the modus operandi of the Tea Party and the Campaign for Liberty. They don’t care who you are as a person as long as you vote the right way on their issues. This explains why Mark Sanford is going back to Congress! Teflon Don, baby!
Make no mistake that there are some current and former elected officials tied to the Tea Party and Liberty movement that I would vote for enthusiastically. Sarah Palin is the sole reason why I started working for Republican officials. I voted for a Republican President and Vice-President for the first time in my life in 2008 and I remain a staunch supporter of Sarah. Ron Paul has a lot of great ideas and I voted for him in the GOP Presidential Primary in 2012. His ideas merit strong consideration and there are a ton of government programs I would like to privatize.
However, it is the Tea Party and Liberty activists who are handicapping their potential. When character is set aside to focus solely on issues, especially in a negative manner, that is almost always a formula for defeat. As long as people are human, people will always place a significant degree of value on character when selecting their candidates, whether they choose to acknowledge that fact or not.
John Cosgrove has character and, if elected in the August special election, the Senate of Virginia will improve with his presence.