Home 2017 Races Money doesn’t vote, people do: how Jacqueline Smith won Prince William County

Money doesn’t vote, people do: how Jacqueline Smith won Prince William County

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By Danica Roem
Photos by Mike Beaty

I have a story for you from the Town of Haymarket.

It’s the dividing line between Prince William County’s rural heritage in the west and its growing status as an exurban destination on the east.

And it’s emblematic for why Jacqueline Smith is now clerk-elect of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park, winning 54%-46% in the April 18 special election, despite being outspent more than 6-to-1.

Throughout the last seven weeks, Democrats across the greater Prince William County area canvassed to elect Jacqueline, an attorney from Dumfries who earned the party’s nomination in 2015 and came painfully close to winning then, before giving it one more shot this year.

On Saturday, for the third time in three days, I headed back to Tyler precinct to finish the second and third turfs assigned specifically to me.

Tyler includes all of the Town of Haymarket, parts Gainesville (Greenhill Crossing area, the south side of Heathcote Boulevard and part of Pageland Lane), and the famous battlefield of Manassas, where there are a few nearby rural homes along General Longstreet’s Line.

As a candidate competing in the Democratic primary for the 13th District of the House of Delegates, I entered Tyler knowing it is a swing precinct within the district.

Despite being a lifelong Manassas resident, my assigned turf in the west was my turf: I covered the Town of Haymarket and Gainesville for more than nine years as the lead reporter for the Gainesville Times. I sat in on countless Town Council meetings for years. I’ve walked the length of the town along Washington Street repeatedly, I wrote hundreds of stories from Haymarket and I know the people well.

As a point of personal pride, I declared to my campaign manager that we would focus on Tyler and we would win it.  I refuse to lose that precinct, not after nine years of telling the stories of that community.

The voters there we targeted were the strongest Democrats in the precinct; we just needed to make sure they knew there was a special election coming up and we needed them to vote for Jacqueline.

My campaign manager, Ethan Damon, and Jacqueline’s campaign manager, David Marshall, are both VAN gurus (VAN – the Voter Activation Network – is the system Democrats use to identify our voters). They provided nearly flawless data; we just had to put in the work of actually knocking on the doors.

In fact, the 12 Democratic House of Delegates candidates from across Prince William County all had the same opportunity, to test-drive their own Get Out The Vote operations before June 13.

Given my own election is coming up June 13, I needed to talk to our strong Tyler Democrats personally to make sure they would vote on April 18 and again for me in two months. Our data was as precise as we could make it. We had specifically targeted people we were out to ask to vote.

So when my step-daughter and I pulled up to one house in the Town of Haymarket, one that’s off the beaten path, I looked down and my walk packet revealed one strong Democrat lived at that house… but there was nothing about anyone else in the house.

Only one person there participated in multiple Democratic primaries, one of the metrics we used to determine like voter leanings given that we don’t register by party in Virginia.
So I pulled alongside the road there and met a woman wearing a hijab in her garage. We chatted, she said she’ll vote, and then she tells me about the rest of her family at that house, including five registered voters.

Two college-age women and one senior woman came outside, as well as one other woman who wasn’t registered to vote but wanted to listen anyway. The other voter wasn’t there.

They were fun, upbeat, progressive and engaging. They cared deeply about protecting the environment and the young women told me about the impact of the cost of college tuition…. issues that directly matter in my race but not so much for the clerk of the court.

I told them that Jacqueline believes no one should be discriminated against when they walk into the courthouse because of what they look like or how they worship. I told them that nondiscrimination is important to me as a transgender woman, which they met with a collective smile.

And I told them that if all five of them voted, we could win Tyler precinct. It’s a swing precinct, and in a low-turnout election, one house could make all the difference.

Their smiles grew. They were palpably excited. And the four women registered to vote all committed to vote April 18 and June 13.

Three days later, the results from Tyler came in:

Jacqueline Smith: 85 votes
Jackson Miller: 82 votes

We won Tyler by three votes… and it’s because those four women made good on their word.

Without them, we would have lost that precinct 82-81.

Nothing replaces the candidate-to-voter conversation. It was a conversation I had in various forms countless times during the last three weekends of the special election, in Haymarket, Gainesville, Manassas and Manassas Park.

The Republicans had mailers, a ton of yard signs, digital ads, on-air ads, robocalls… you name it.

But we had heart.

We had more people knocking doors, people like Mike Bizik, who knocked on more than 600 doors in one day alone and knocked on more than 27,000 doors during the last 20 months.

We had more volunteers handing out sample ballots for in-person absentee voting at the Woodbridge DMV every day for four consecutive weeks, dozens of people who signed up for multiple hour-long shifts each for days.

Personally, I handed out ballots six times, despite the DMV not being even close to the 13th District, because those were guaranteed voters; they were right there, we just had to ask them to vote. Other volunteers like Deanna Bayer, Elisabet Michaelsen, Richard Jessie, Deshundra Jefferson and so many others stood outside there in the sun, rain, wind, warmth and cold even more often, all committed to securing what turned out to be a 20-point victory in absentee ballots.

Above all, the Democrats had more conversations than the Republicans.

At the end of the day, what we said at the doors mattered more than what the Republicans said in their mail pieces.

Money doesn’t vote.

People vote.

And on Tuesday, the people of Prince William County, including those four women in the Town of Haymarket, voted for Clerk-elect Jacqueline Smith (D).

  • James Webster

    What a great story, well told. It’s how we win.

  • John Farrell

    Agreed great story.

    I was distracted, however, by the use of the word “exurban” to describe Haymarket.

    To get to an exurb (a place outside of a metropolitan area), one would have to travel to King George County, or Rappahannock, Culpeper, Orange, Page or Shenandoah Countes.

    Even Caroline County is part of a metropolitan area, although the Richmond MSA.

    The Washington PMSA extends from Front Royal to Fredericksburg and includes Jefferson County, WV.

    Haymarket is suburban as much a part of the Washington Metropolitan area as Cherry Hill, Lincoln, The Plains or Berryville.

    Most often it’s an ink-stained denizen of the District corporate media who tries to consign an integral Washington suburb to the far reaches of the 9th CD.

    Why a long-time Gainseville reporter would excise his stomping grounds from the metropolitan area is a puzzlement.

    BTW, well done Jackie!

    • Danica Roem for Delegate

      Hi John,
      Thank you for your comment. Prince William County and Loudoun County are considered the two “exurbs” or Northern Virginia with Fairfax County and Arlington being the suburbs. If you search “Prince William County exurban,” you’ll see a bevy of references to it being that way.
      As a lifelong resident of Prince William County (32 years strong), I would say the county has drastically changed over the years but it’s still quite a different animal from Fairfax and Arlington.
      Best,
      Danica

      • Here’s a map from a study by Brookings. Note that it’s a bit dated (from 2006), so things will have changed since then no doubt. Still, it gives you an idea for what’s “exurban” in the DC area…

        https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2880/33775062910_517b64c619_b.jpg

        • John Farrell

          Except Brookings is not the authority on this issue.

          The Census Bureau is.

          • That Brookings map actually supports your argument…Prince William County not considered “exurban.”

          • John Farrell

            According to Brookings, Haymarket and Gainseville are exurban

            as are Great Falls and Clifton in FAIRFAX. As if!

      • John Farrell

        The authority on this issue is the U.S. Census Bureau. See its listing of the jurisdictions that make up the Washington Metropolitan Area. They have actually developed a rigorous criteria for making these determinations based on where the residents of a locality work.

        PWC and Loudoun have both been part of the Washington Metropolitan Area since at least 1980 which would be before you were born.

        That other people get facts wrong is no excuse for a reporter to perpetuate a falsehood.

        • yellowroz

          Prince William, Fauquier and Loudoun counties’ land use (and sewer) polices can be easily seen with this Google aerial. Danica is right about Hauymarket!
          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/affed08c738e2ce0ba967b8ec76c48c40123eb965e42fe7f45d60b2b08e431e7.png

          • John Farrell

            The problem in labeling Haymarket or Front Royal as “exurban” is that doing so ignores/denigrates the thousands of people who live there and commute everyday to jobs in Tysons, Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom. They are then stigmatized as the “other” to be ignored or dismissed as less than the “morally superior” residents of Arlington who are able to afford to live closer to their jobs.

            This living/commuting pattern is a necessity for our neighbors in Stephens City and Spotsylvania to enable them to find affordable housing. These life choices are imposed on our fellow residents of the Metropolitan area because of the exclusionary land use and sewer policies of the Fairfax, PWC, Loudoun and Fauquier!

            If we view the residents of Front Royal and Fredericksburg as fellow citizens of the Metropolitan area who work next to us, we should be able to look at housing policy differently.

          • yellowroz

            “Ex-urban” is not a slur, John, for heaven’s sake. Her term is backed up by my aerial, and my own deep experience with those very land use and sewer policies. Your insight is useful for another discussion, but for now, I am standing up for Danica, and her voice, and her deep knowledge of that area – essential for a candidate.

          • “Exurban” is no more a slur than “urban” or “suburban.” There are people out there who like – or dislike – one or more of those. There are also people who prefer to live in urban, suburban or exurban environments. But the terms themselves are neutral/descriptive.

          • John Farrell

            Seriously?!

            “Urban radio” and “urban voter” are not pejorative euphemisms for African American?

            “Suburbanite” isn’t a pejorative flung by downtown sophisticates or wannabes at the inhabitants of Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes?”

            “Exurban” has been used as both a sword and a shield. Too many election night pundits misuse the term to express their surprise when Democrats carry jurisdictions like Loudoun or PWC when those place are integral parts of the Metropolitan area inhabited by people who work in Tysons or Reston or, heaven forfend, Arlington (using I-66 to get there).

            I also heard “exurban” used by swells or wannabes to claim not be be “suburbanites.” As in “Our people could never live in suburbia. daring. We live in exubria!” Or “That kind of housing doesn’t belong in exurbia, my dear.”

            Neutral descriptors?

            Hardly

          • Perhaps I didn’t write this clearly enough, although I thought it was very clear.

            “Exurban” is no more a slur than “urban” or “suburban.” There are people out there who like – or dislike – one or more of those.

            In other words, yes, any of these words have been and can be used as slurs. But as urban studies, land-use experts, etc. use the words, they’re technical terms. As always, any word can be twisted by anyone to a negative usage.

          • yellowroz

            But John is mysteriously and unnecessarily attributing meaning to Danica’s use of the term that she clearly did not intend; and, her reference was accurate.

            Long and enjoyable conversations could be had (ideally over Piedmont wine) on how Northern Virginia has changed since Joel Garreau autographed my copy of Edge Cities….and I held a series of Land Use Conferences, one of which featured a “Point-Counterpoint” between Jack Herrity and Audrey Moore!….Boy that reminds me I wish I had a copy of that pic we got of Jack, Audrey, Tom Davis, and Kate Hanley together….. You two guys can go ahead and spar all you want. Peace out! 😉

          • yellowroz

            I managed this project from 1993, with a USDOT grant. It compiled local gov’s comp plans. The effort was (surprisingly?) controversial from it’s conception! I later wished we could have shifted the R density categories. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a951bd96143aadd08344fbc04aba490d89214e9f453b9da7a1147ab4d6a3823c.png

          • John Farrell

            Danica is a great candidate and we all wish her much success.

            I could use the same scale of aerial photographs of Great Falls, Oakton, Clifton and Mason Neck that would look even less densely populated. No one would suggest that those areas are not economically dependent on the employment centers of Tysons, Reston or K Street.

            “Exurban” is not a synonym for a low density residential land use pattern. Its used by experts in the fields of demography and geography to identify areas that do not have strong economic ties to centers of economic activity and jobs. Imprecision in the use of language is unexpected in a reporter.

            As for “deep experience with those very land use and sewer policies,” having spent 45 years in the field, written book length manuscripts on the subject and delivered scores of lectures on the matter, I surprised our paths haven’t crossed.

          • yellowroz

            They have, John; I met with you at NVBIA on the Occoquan Model. I was Director of Environment, Land Use and Transportation for what is now the NVRC from 1989-1999.

  • yellowroz

    Chills! Good data indeed let’s us ORGANIZE! Now that the impact of conventional media ads has diminished so, every volunteer hour is worth its weight in gold! 🙂