Sarah Sams is making a first-time run for political office. The 28 year old decidedly progressive Virginian is running for the House of Delegates in a prohibitively Republican district. Most of the voters live in Hanover County (60.65% of the district) but with significant numbers in New Kent (25.14%) and King William (14.320%) counties. The 97th district, north and east of Richmond was represented by a relatively mainstream Republican, Chris Peace, since 2006, until neo-fascist, bigoted Scott Wyatt defeated him in a bitter
GOP nomination battle in 2019. (Wyatt was outraged because Peace had voted for Medicaid expansion.) The district is far whiter (85%) than Virginia as a whole (69%) and the Republican performance level is 77.7%. Trump beat Hillary here 31,272 (68.17%) to 12,511 (27.27%) and the following year Republican Ed Gillespie beat Ralph Northam for governor by around the same percentage. Tim Kaine did a little better in his Senate reelection in 2018-- but far right Republican Corey Stewart still beat him in this district-- 64.92% to 33.31%. Kaine, a conservative Democrat, didn't win a single precinct. He came closest in Mechanicsville, where he racked up 46.42% of the vote) and in Watkins in New Kent County, where he took 48.31%. I asked her how she expects to win in this kind of district. Part of the response is the current Delegate, Wyatt. Below is a guest post she wrote as a way of introducing herself. If you like what she has to say, please consider contributing at her ActBlue page.
Turning A Red District Blue
-by Sarah Sams
I have an opponent who voted against a lot of popular legislation; I've lived in the district for most of my life, and many Republicans are leaving the party nationwide after the insurrection. So how do we convince them to vote for Democrats instead of not voting at all?
People are inherently selfish-- this isn't a bad thing; it's part of how we’ve made it this long. Apply your oxygen mask before your child's when it drops from the airplane’s ceiling, and get yourself out of the burning house before calling 911 and going back for your family. If you've ever spoken with a Republican, they tend to follow this kind of appeal: "they're stealing our jobs, they're wasting*our taxes!"; we need to meet it with a discussion that benefits them. It is significantly easier to convince people when you can demonstrate how things can help them directly. Any salesman can tell you that but selling progressive agendas is a bit trickier. There are always people that refuse to reason-- people do that to protect themselves from feeling stupid.
Communication is a prime component of running, but being able to convince people that might have solidly disagreed with Democrats their whole lives without making them feel sick is going to be the real trick to this one. I would advise any candidate like myself and their crew to insert themselves into places they wouldn't usually go and ask people why they're worried. Tell them what you'd like to do to fix their problems, and if they have concerns about that fix, ask them what they think the right move is. People are craving connection right now, thanks to all the isolation we're facing from the pandemic. You will become much more memorable for having a presence than by ignoring the unlikely voters.
Of course, there will be people you cannot agree with, like the influential local militia leader upset about the number of black people moving in. We do not need to sink to their demands, and we should not reach across that table. Thank them for their thoughts, and move on.
To win this election, Democrats need to demonstrate that they're here to help people and not take things away from them. Here's an example, we’ll see how it goes in practice: In my district and state, the second amendment is a big deal. People love their guns. Our lobby day is basically "2nd Amendment Day." I respect the constitution and would never take their guns away, even if I wouldn't own one, but I would tell them about my plan for legislation that requires a gun safety license to buy guns. Current gun owners would have one year to get licensed before fines would come into play, and they wouldn't be able to legally purchase new firearms or ammunition until they get that license. If they refuse to get the license for another six months, they get to go to court and have their guns bought by the state, paid via the fines. If they get arrested for violent crimes with firearms in their possession, they should get immediate jail time and firearms revoked without payment. I might explain how accidental discharge kills people and how improper storage accidents kill children. Don’t they want to keep guns away from criminals? The legislation will encourage gun owners to follow safe practices, like a driver's license is intended to promote safe driving. Relate your topic to your listener, and you will see the gears begin turning.
We need to convince conservatives that progressive policies are in their best interest, and we can't do that without talking to them outside of elections. I know it seems counterintuitive, but talk to your conservative neighbors, make friends with them. Take your time, and you’ll make a breakthrough.
I'm crowdsourcing my campaign because I'm a millennial who graduated into the recession, and I want to see a safety net developed so that we can make it through the kinds of crises we are going through right now. Anyone can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org