Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Rise of Leslie Cockburn in Virginia's 5th Congressional District

Republican Congressman Tom Garrett's surprise announcement on Monday that he would not seek a second term because he's an alcoholic has certainly boosted the candidacy of Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a first-time candidate for office who was already looking like a winner.

Leslie Cockburn
Cockburn had cleared the field of her Democratic rivals. The Democrats of the Virginia 5th District opted for a nominating caucus of counties rather than a primary (they can do that in Virginia), and Cockburn had most of those counties behind her. The sprawling 5th District takes in all or part of 21 counties, from the North Carolina border almost up to Maryland. Her leading Democratic opponent, Roger Dean Huffstetler, who'd raised over a million $$ himself, dropped out of the race a couple of days before the May 5th caucus and endorsed Cockburn:
“Democrats in the Fifth District have made it loud and clear through local caucuses that they want Leslie Cockburn to be our nominee to take on Tom Garrett this fall,” Huffstetler said in a statement. “Leslie worked extremely hard to earn that distinction, achieving viability in all 23 localities and winning an outright majority of delegates. She and her team are to be congratulated on executing on their strategy with precision and enthusiasm.”
Roger Dean Huffstetler is a class act, and he himself, an ex-Marine, looked like a winner back in January when he announced. Leslie Cockburn didn't get into the race until July, and she swept everyone away, including Huffstetler. Sic transit semper fi.

So what is it about Leslie Cockburn? She's something of a celebrity, married to Irish journalist and filmmaker Andrew Cockburn (who is also, incidentally, an old Russian expert; he wrote The Threat – Inside the Soviet Military Machine in 1982). Leslie and Andrew's daughter Olivia Wilde is a successful actress. Leslie has been a top investigative journalist, an award-winning producer for CBS's 60 Minutes. She has won two Emmys, two George Polk Awards, two Columbia Dupont journalism awards, and the Robert F. Kennedy Award. John Lewis, civil rights leader and dean of Georgia’s congressional delegation, has offered to come and campaign for her.

"In 2009, Leslie Cockburn directed and co-produced (with husband Andrew Cockburn) her first feature documentary for theatrical release. American Casino relates the story of the origins, progress and consequences of the subprime mortgage disaster that led to the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Beginning filming in January 2008, Cockburn laid bare both the financial machinations and miscalculations on Wall Street that produced the disaster as well as its effects on an array of Baltimore homeowners struggling to stay afloat. The film premiered at New York's Tribeca Film Festival in April 2009." (Thank you, Wikipedia)

So there's some talent there. And smarts. And connections.

She's gonna need all of that. Last I saw, the 5th District of Virginia (sorta like the 5th District of NC) was rated "safely Republican," and it could be a natural dam against any blue wave. But Cockburn is campaigning on kitchen table issues, like health care and education, and she's unapologetic about her environmentalism. She's come out in opposition to the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would cut through productive farms and small businesses (like the Four Corners Farm in Franklin County) to transit fracked-gas to North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the Republican executives of the 5th District have to choose a replacement on the ballot for Tom Garrett, somebody who will probably be nowhere as prominent as Leslie Cockburn.

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