Besides electing members to the House of Representatives and voting on Constitutional amendments to the Virginia Constitution in a couple of weeks, many cities and counties in Virginia will be holding local elections too. In Harrisonburg, for example, we will be electing members to the city council and the school board. What has always confused me about local elections is that political parties, citizens, and even candidates themselves never really take campaigning for these offices too seriously. Sure, they put up yard signs, send out a single mailer, and might even try to knock on your door once, but that’s about it. Although I won’t claim I’ve observed them all, I will admit that I’ve never seen a professionally run campaign for a city office here in Harrisonburg. Where is the fundraising…or the volunteers…or the campaign manager? Now I know what some candidates will say, that they don’t have the funds to run a full-scale campaign, but I believe it can be done fairly easily. Unfortunately, tradition is tough to overcome. For that simple reason, so many people ignore city and county elections and think that they are a joke.
In our last city council elections, we had three Democratic candidates, three Republicans, and two Independents vying for three seats. Keep in mind that this election took place during the McCain vs. Obama election. So guess who won? All three Democrats did. As far as I could tell, Tracy Evans, who is currently the Chairman of the Harrisonburg GOP, had the best-run campaign, but, with all due respect, it was still insufficient when compared to more traditional ones. Unfortunately, it is likely that all three Republicans relied on the McCain campaign for support rather than running a separate and independent operation. Given that the McCain campaign only garnered 41% of the vote in the city, the council candidates were defeated too. In general, it seems as if city council and school board candidates place their trust in their own renown and fortune to win elections. If the political winds are favorable, like in 2004, the Republicans will win. If fortune turns against them, like in 2008, they will be destroyed. Since the local elections are now tied with the state and national elections rather than being the traditional May event, it is even more important for candidates to set themselves apart from the state and national currents. On the flip side, given the high negatives of Obama and the Democratic led Congress, if neither the Democrats nor the Republicans run a hard fought campaign, I would expect the Republicans to win at least one, if not both, of the seats on council this year.
City council and school board races are important for two reasons: 1. Some of these leaders go on to higher office. 2. Because of their relatively small constituency, they are supposed to be the easiest to contact and be closest to the people. Do I want a conservative city? Certainly, just like I want a conservative state and a conservative country. When it is all said and done, elections rise and fall based upon candidates and their campaigns. Given the low turnout and interest in these races, even a modest campaign can easily swing a couple hundred votes which can mean the difference between a loss and a win. So candidates, if you are serious about winning, ask the loyal base for our money, ask for our time, and ask for our vote. It’s that simple. And get a decent campaign going for crying out loud. Now I’ll freely admit that I could be wrong about Harrisonburg local elections, given that I’ve never really been fully engaged in one, but from what I’ve observed, as well as the fact that I’ve never been asked to really help out either, I truly doubt it. State and national elections are very important, yes, but we cannot continue to allow local elections to simmer unwatched on a back burner. They are real campaigns for real offices and must be treated as such. In closing, I’m well aware that some liberals read this blog, and if they take this message to heart and conservatives do not, don’t blame me. If Republicans continue to insist on running a joke of a campaign, then, like in 2008, Harrisonburg will soon receive a Democratic punch line. I doubt many of us find that prospect a laughing matter.