Gun Show Straw Poll

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

This weekend, the Rockingham County Fairgrounds played host to a gun show, an event that takes place there several times a year.  It is one of the larger gun shows, or perhaps even the largest gun show in the region.  At this event, the Massanutten Patriots (formerly known as the Harrisonburg Tea Party) held a straw poll for the 2016 Presidential election.  The methodology was quite simple.  As attendees would walk by their table, they would be asked which of the candidates (of any party) they would support assuming the election were held today.  Rather than given a laundry list of choices, respondents were expected to offer their own.  Although some were undecided, that option was excluded from the outcome of this poll.

Unlike other straw polls, this one doesn’t gauge political activists but rather average Americans who have at least somewhat of an affinity for firearms.  Like other straw polls, this one wasn’t scientific either.

Anyway, here are the results:

Donald Trump: 43%

Ben Carson: 18%

Ted Cruz: 15%

Marco Rubio: 8%

Hillary Clinton: 3%

Jeb Bush: 2%

Carly Fiorina: 2%

Mike Huckabee: 2%

Bobby Jindal: 2%

John Kaisch: 2%

Chris Christie: 1%

Bernie Sanders: 1%

Total votes: 93

Given that gun owners are typically far more conservative than liberal and more Republican than Democrat, it wasn’t shocking that a majority chose Republicans.  Then again, there are Democratic gun owners too, so there was bound to be a couple of responses for the Dems.  However, I have to say that I found the results at least somewhat surprising.  Yes, Donald Trump is leading in national polls, but I assumed his numbers wouldn’t be nearly this high.  When I asked some of the respondents why they supported Trump, a common answer was that they liked that he spoke his mind and wasn’t beholden to any particular special interest.

Another unexpected result was Rand Paul.  If you scan the tally, you will notice that Paul and a few of the other declared candidates aren’t listed.  That is because not a single person named him as their choice.  Although Paul is a favorite among Republican liberty activists, winning the Republican Liberty Caucus straw poll in New Hampshire, he seems to be either unknown or not favored among the gun-owning citizens of the greater Shenandoah Valley.  As was pretty much the case for his father’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012, so far the Rand Paul campaign has had no official presence in this part of Virginia.  Then again, none of the candidates have had official representation here with the notable exception of the Carson campaign.  One of his staffers was collecting signatures to get Dr. Carson on the ballot outside the gun show and attended the last First Friday meeting of the local GOP.

Although Donald Trump and some of his supporters think that the media is treating him unfairly, and I guess that it is possible that they are, the fact that he is still the most mentioned candidate does much to keep him in the public mind.  As Oscar Wilde once said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  Assuming there is at least some measure of favorable or at least neutral press coverage, that maxim holds true in politics.

So, it seems that Trump has actual real supporters among gun owners and is not simply astroturfing.  The question is though, will he continue to maintain his lead until the voting begins in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Angela Lynn Withdraws

Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur
Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Angela Lynn, the Democratic candidate for the 25th District Virginia House of Delegates seat, has withdrawn…not from the race, mind you, but from her speaking engagement with the Massanutten Patriots (also known as the Harrisonburg Tea Party).

Although Ms. Lynn was supposed to be the featured speaker at the group’s monthly meeting later today, I have received word that due to another commitment she will not be there. Instead attendees will hear from Will Wrobleski, campaign manager for Delegate Steve Landes, the Republican incumbent for the 25th district.

Now, I’m sure that some Democrats and some tea partiers would be pleased by this news. After all, most tea parties are heavily slanted toward the Republican Party and thus Democrats would argue that Ms. Lynn’s time could be better spent elsewhere. Similarly, some tea party goers likely don’t have much of an interest in hearing from a Democratic candidate. However, I encourage both sides to think differently.

Although it is true that some tea parties are joined at the hip with the GOP, openly endorsing all Republican candidates, encouraging their membership to vote Republican and join the official party, and only inviting Republican candidates and elected officials to speak at their meetings. I would argue that those tea parties have failed in their mission and have become part of the problem that they were originally created to fight against. Therefore, I have pressed for a different agenda during my time as part of the leadership team of the local tea party.

To me, one of the most important skills a person can learn is to think and reason for him or herself. In politics one shouldn’t merely swallow the talking points of a political party or politician whole. So too in religion one should not accept every word of a spiritual leader simply because of his or her title. Even though the tea party isn’t as open-minded as I’d like, I’ve pushed for a variety of speakers representing various political parties and philosophies.

For example, in 2012 I pressed for a speaking slot for a representative from Libertarian Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign. In addition, that year I lobbied for a city council forum featuring all of the candidates: Republican, Democratic, and independent. In 2014, although a candidate for office myself, I sought a similar forum at the tea party including all of my opponents. I had to more or less plead with the Democrats to show up and even then only one of the two did so.

Yes, if we are to consider the situation from a purely selfish perspective, I should have tried to monopolize the tea party for myself. After all, I had spent far more time with the group than all of my opponents combined. They knew me and I think many of them liked me (shocking isn’t it?). And, to the best of my knowledge since that meeting, none of the candidates, including the ones who were elected that November, have returned to visit the tea party. But, I felt there was something more at stake than this one mere election, even though the outcome could very well affect me personally.

Looking back, after the 2012 city council forum, one tea party member came up to me and said that he really liked what Democratic candidate Deb Fitzgerald said that night. And do you know what? I agreed with him. Although I was a member of the Republican Party at that time, at that event Ms. Fitzgerald earned one of my three votes. Of course being a member of the GOP I couldn’t tell anyone as much. But it was a gratifying experience helping my fellow tea party folks see beyond the party labels and get to know the candidates for who they actually are. The same held true in 2013, when I tried to set up similar speaking engagements for Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis. I doubted that many had ever heard of a Libertarian…other than the caricature that the Republican and Democrats paint of them. Drawing from my own experience, I had heard my first Libertarian candidate at a tea party meeting back in 2010.

And so, as was the case in 2012, 2013, and 2014, I encouraged the tea party and Angela Lynn to come together, not necessarily so that the members would be enamored with her, but rather so they could understand where she stands on the issues and ask her questions in a one-on-one fashion. In addition, she would have the chance to learn about the tea party too. After all, it is far easier to dismiss or marginalize a person you have never have never met. By comparison, Republican Steve Landes has done a much better job, having spoken to the tea party on a variety of occasions over the years. However, by cancelling her appearance, it is doubtful that any of the tea party folks will ever hear her message.

Again, my purpose isn’t to promote or hinder either Landes or Lynn, but rather encourage folks to explore the tangible differences between the two and discover which of their choices matches most closely with their own ideology. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is a reminder that they are able and allowed to think and reason for themselves. Alas, with Ms. Lynn’s rejection of this offer, it seems that my efforts to continue to spread political dialogue and promote intelligent thinking beyond the tired Republican vs. Democrat rhetoric has hit a snag. As you might imagine, I’m quite disappointed with her decision. At one point we had scheduled a slot for two Democratic candidates at the tea party. With this cancellation, we now have zero. It is frustrating to spend one’s political capital on someone who doesn’t seem to appreciate it. Given the trend this year, I don’t know how much longer the tea party leadership will continue to consider my suggestions to include candidates other than the Republicans.

And so, as the headline of this article proclaims, Angela Lynn withdraws…from speaking to the local tea party tonight.