from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mark Warner’s Pig Roast - one man’s experience 

Yesterday was the (almost always annual) Mark Warner Pig Roast. Mark and his wife Lisa Collis open up their Rappahannock Bend Farm in King George County Virginia to large crowds of people who come to eat, drink, schmooze, and let their kids play (face painting, hay rides, other activities), while the former Governor and his wife stand on line forever to greet people. Yesterday was my first time at the event, and I thought my experiences and perceptions might offer some insight that would interest others. I will also comment upon the Crashing the States phenomenon, and several key Virginia politicians who were present.

The farm actually overlooks a bend in the Rappahannock, one of the four major rivers in Virginia (the others being the Potomac, James and York). It is located in what is known as the Northern Neck, east of Fredericksburg, and perhaps 80 minutes from Washington DC. The weather was somewhat iffy yesterday, and we were hit with drizzle on more than a few occasions (more on this later) but that did not seem to suppress the crowds.

The invitation I received said the event was from 11:30 until 4, so I arrived on time. I was actually able to grab a barbecue sandwich almost right away, although I found out later that was supposed to be only for those working the event. Similarly the man running the beer truck (with multiple kegs of Miller Lite feeding several taps) asked me if I wanted to taste test after he had cleared the lines, even though it also was not to officially open until 1 PM. In fact, the only things immediately available was fresh-squeezed lemonade.

This was officially a social event - no contributions, no speeches. But obviously it was also an occasion for building political good will. At 1 PM the food line opened and there was a rush - for hot dogs, burger, veggie burgers (note the consideration for variant diets), barbecued pork, cole slaw, pickles, and so on. My mistake was probably rushing for that line first, because at the same time our hosts came out to greet people and a long line formed. The wait on that line was never less than 30 minutes, often longer, as the former first couple graciously chatted with people, stood for pictures, etc. Even when I left around 4:15, the line was still 30 minutes long. As far as I could tell Mark and Lisa had stayed with unfailing good humor for more than 3 hours. This kind of retail politicking is the kind of thing that serves one well in places like NH and Iowa - be forewarned.

For quite some time after my arrival I saw no familiar faces and was wondering why I was there. The first familiar face I saw was Jerome Armstrong, who arrive around 12:20. I greeted him (he now works for the Forward Together Pac that is the vehicle for keeping Warner visible as he explores running for the presidency), he introduced me to his wife (who does not blog) and daughter. As we were chatting others were arriving, including Ben Tribbett - Not Larry Sabato, who broke the Macaca story on his blog. I later ran into a number of other Virginia bloggers, including PhriendlyJaime from Richmond and her significant other Thaddeus Toad, and Virginia Paige from the Tidewater area.

Hekebolos and Reality Bites, who are doing the Crashing the States project, showed up a bit after 1. They had been unable to schedule an event for the evening with DC area bloggers, so after some chit-chat they decided they would do some interviewing at the Pig Roast. They set up under a large tree shooting three Virginia bloggers, with Governor Warner greeting people in the background. I was in the middle,with Jaime on one side and NotLarrySabato on the other. We were questioned for perhaps 20 minutes. They were interested in how we got into blogging, how we saw the role of bloggers in campaigns, comparing progressive bloggers to bloggers on the right, how we thought the party establishment viewed bloggers ... How much of our footage will make it into the final documentary after editing is of course up to them, and will depend on the other video they obtain.

While we were being filmed, Jim Webb arrived. He began by greeting Mark and Lisa, and then began working his way down the line greeting people. As Dante (Hekebolos) and Gary (Reality Bites) and their cameramen had just finished with us, Ben and I were able to get Jim to come over for a few minutes, although he declined to be wired up with a microphone, so I’ m not sure how good the sound on it will be (he will be interviewed again in his headquarters later this week).

The CTS group got a number of other interviews, including with Jessica Vanden Berg, Jim’s campaign manager, and with Brian Moran, Democratic leader in the House of Delegates (also brother of Congressman Jim Moran, and himself quite possibly a candidate for statewide office in 2009). I will return to Virginia statewide politics anon.

The one congressional candidate I saw was Phil Kellam, running against Thelma Drake in the 2nd CD down in Tidewater, and at this point holding the edge in the race. It was interesting that a number of people who greeted him started talking about his role as Commissioner of Revenue - people were asking about licensing and tax requirements and he answered graciously and knowledgeably.

Let me talk about Jim Webb. I watched him work the crowd, and chatted with him briefly at one point. I think he is an introvert, which can make this kind of campaigning somewhat difficult. he has gotten much better at it. he was gracious, his handshake was firm, like Warner he willingly posed for pictures. He had on a tie, perhaps the only person there so dressed -- he had come from another event and had not changed. While he was working the line it began to rain. Realizing that he could really not greet people while seeking shelter, he surrendered to the elements. In the process I saw him loosen up, and begin to smile quite a bit more. There was a real positive response to him. Yes, this was a Democratic crowd, so people were inclined to be positive. But remember, his first ad had focused on his relationship with Reagan, which annoyed some Democrats who did not understand why this was an important part of how he expands his voting support to defeat an incumbent Senator who is also a former governor. That Jim stayed for over 2 hours when he needed to get home and rest and prepare for today’s debate was a sign of the recognition by the campaign that he also needs to make contact with Democratic activists to ensure their enthusiasm.

Here I might note that Webb was the subject of some of the questions with which we three Virginia bloggers were confronted, especially as bloggers had a great deal to do with getting Jim into the race. We were asked about supporting someone who was a conservative Democrat. All 3 of us agreed that that was hardly the issue - we knew Jim was absolutely straightforward, and that while he was strongly supportive of the military, there were many progressive Dems whose experience in the military had been an important part of shaping who they were. Also, Jim’s focus on seeing government as working for all Americans is hardly a conservative position, is very much a traditional democratic position.

Let me return to an instate focus for a moment. Brian Moran knew that he had met me, and when I reminded him about the book event he sponsored for CTG he immediately remembered. Brian is charismatic, and would have a real shot for statewide office should he decide to pursue that route. I am hoping that he does not decide to challenge the other important figure there, Creigh Deeds, who lost a heartbreaker for Attorney General in 2005. I had met Creigh several times before. When I introduced myself as Ken Bernstein who had met him among other places at Don Beyer’s house, he immediately went ‘Teacherken, right?” showing an awareness of blogging. This was also demonstrated when he came by when I was talking with Jaime and Thad. He knew them, and was chatting, but when I pointed out that they were PhriendlyJaime and Thaddeus Toad, he lit up. He explained that he had been at events where they had all bee present, but had not made the connection with their blog names. He understands the importance of blogging, although he acknowledges that it is not something that is natural for him (we will work on that).

When I had chatted with Creigh, he pointed out that he had spent a millions dollars on advertising in N Virginia in the last 9 days, but that had he been able to start his advertising one day earlier he could have one. He was frustrated with how expensive such campaigns had been. When I explored with him whether he might consider the US Senate in 2008 if John Warner didn’t run again, he said it was not on his radar. He felt that you could get far more done at the state level in a executive position than as a national legislator. he also said that his heart has been focused on doing something at the state level for years and he has to see that through. In my mind the only question is if he runs again for AG or instead goes directly for Governor.

It was a fascinating 4+ hours on the Northern Neck. The age ranged from high school through very senior citizens. As a sign of how much change there has been in the Old Dominion in the past few decades, the crowd was thoroughly integrated, including some interracial couples - remember, this is the state that gave the nation Loving v Virginia on the subject of interracial marriage, which used to be a felony here. I saw a fair number of South Asians, predominantly but not exclusively younger.

And Mark Warner remains a phenomenon. He is a man who is quite wealthy from his cell phone endeavors. But he did not grow up rich, he went to George Washington before going to Harvard Law. He recognized his limitations when he matched himself against his law school classmates. He is not a dynamic public speaker, although he is more than adequate.

But the key is his ability to connect with people, all kinds of people. As a successful businessman, he knows how to talk to businessmen. But he is equally comfortable with workers, and college students, and farmers, and they ar comfortable with him.

There were a number of people with buttons advocating his presidential run. He might not have the financial resources Hillary does (yet), but he is a star in his own right, and should not be underestimated for 2008, especially if he can help Jim Webb take down George Allen.

Well, that is one man’s experience. If anyone reading this also attended, I hope you will add your perceptions in the comments. Now I have to get back to my real life as a school teacher, and grade some papers.!
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