by Kellen Squire
Another Saturday morning up early to hit the bricks; not the first by far, and not the last… though the time for them is rapidly drawing to a close. Only seven Saturday mornings left. It’s both forever and tomorrow away at the same time.
We spent this entire weekend in Rockingham County, which is the smallest and reddest chunk of the 58th District. After the 2009 election, Republicans took a look at the changing demographics in our state, and the man sitting in the White House, and said, “Woah! We need to do something, fast.” The end result was Operation Red Map, which, through a combination of computer-aided projecting and data mining the internet search history of every single Virginia voter, was- among other things- the new 58th District.
Gone were the trending-bluer precincts surrounding the Charlottesville metropolitan area; instead was about a third of Rockingham County. Split from the rest of the district by Shenandoah National Park, it made the 58th District so uncompetitive (Clinton’s best precinct in my part of Rockingham was 26%) that my opponent went from being unchallenged just one time in the first eight years of his tenure, to running unopposed ever since.
That ended this year.
Conventional wisdom would dictate I ignore Rockingham altogether. My district has the biggest chunk (both by population and by geography) of bright blue Albemarle County of any in the Commonwealth- in fact, one of our precincts ended up being one of the best performing in turnout for the Democratic primary this year in the entire state. The Albemarle portion is almost 45% of my entire district by population… but there are tons of Democratic-leaning voters who never show up in off-year races because there’s nobody to vote for. My district was built to focus on the Charlottesville metropolitan area, while cramming as many Dems into the 57th District as possible.
The folks in Rockingham know this. Two elected officials I spoke to when I first launched my run- one an unapologetic Democrat who hasn’t lost in this district in six election cycles, the other a MAGA-man through and through- lamented that to me independent of one another. “We were put here to be ignored,” the Trump supporter said, in reference to the redistricting in 2010. “(Your opponent) only cares about us if there’s a photo op to be had,” the Democrat told me.
Which is exactly why we found ourselves in Rockingham County all this weekend, and will be back more than once, before the election in November. These folks haven’t even had a choice for the House of Delegates in literally decades, and never since they’ve been a part of the 58th District. They deserve a representative who won’t ignore them; who’ll fight unapologetically for them.
So my three kids and I piled into my truck and headed over the mountain early this morning, pulling into the Elkton, Virginia, McDonalds at about 9:30am. We were joined by about a half-dozen other folks; my mom, who drove up from Roanoke to help; two of our regular volunteers from Albemarle County; and two who drove two hours from Northern Virginia just to help us canvas for a day. Their delegate is an unchallenged Democrat, so they wanted to help somewhere they could make a big difference- and holy moly, did they ever. But more on that later.
We were even joined by Brent Finnegan, the candidate for the neighboring 26th District, who took time out of his busy campaign to spend a few hours knocking doors with us. His family was from our part of Rockingham, and he knows it well. Brent is a helluva guy; look him up if you get the chance.
As we were waiting, our giant “KELLEN SQUIRE FOR DELEGATE, PEOPLE BEFORE PARTY” banner hanging off the back of my pickup truck, we were greeted by approving horn honks, waves, and even one person who stopped to pick up a yard sign. Heartening in deep-maroon Rockingham. Once we were all organized together, and turfs split up.
My group- Brent, my mom, and my kids- parked at a nearby elementary school, and took off. Brent has also become accustomed to walking up to even “unfriendly houses” (Trump/Pence signs, National Right to Life decals; heck, one we saw today even had bumper stickers for the IBEW and NRA on the same truck), so he and I split the street evens and odds, and we took off.
Very first door we hit, I rang the doorbell and waited. I was greeted by a woman who raised an eyebrow on seeing me standing outside her door; she was clearly unimpressed. I waited for her to open her glass storm door so I could give my spiel, but it soon became apparent she wasn’t interested in doing so.
“Hi there,” I said. From the other side of the door, the woman cupped her hand to her ear in the international sign for speak up, I can’t hear you. I sighed mentally- she was just putting me on, wasn’t she? Refusing to open her door and then telling me she couldn’t hear me- I prepared for this to be my first door slam, but was determined to soldier on nonetheless. So I engaged my diaphragm and took my volume up a notch. “My name is Kellen Squire; I’m an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I’m running for the House of Delegates in our district here.”
Her eyes suddenly widened. She asked me a question, but she apparently had an excellently insulated storm door, and it was my turn to frown and cup my hand to ear. She pushed the storm door open abruptly.
“Are you a Republican or a Democrat?!” she asked, her tone almost urgent.
“A Democrat, ma’am,” I replied, and the door flung all the way open. I staggered backwards a step as she wrapped her arms around me in a bear hug.
“Oh, thank Christ!” she said, in a tone that sounded like she was holding back tears. “Finally! A Democrat!”
This is exactly why we include folks who aren’t “supervoters”, or “strong Democrats”, in our datasets for the houses we hit while canvassing. When you never have anything or anyone to vote for… you don’t show up. We’ve known this for awhile- both as a general principle, and specific to Rockingham County. Not only that, but even as far back as February, the ever-awesome and super analytical pdxbuckeye had this nailed, saying, during his analysis of our race:
“Just looking at the chart, Rockingham looks like where it is likely there is a pocket of old Democrats that have not been tapped in this District for some time.”
Which is why you’ll find me in Rockingham County between now and November campaigning more than any candidate has- at ANY level above local races- in years, if not decades. Going where even Republican candidates won’t tread, and fighting unapologetically for progressive values like Medicare for All. Ending partisan gerrymandering. Universal pre-K. Broadband internet access. On and on.
But I can’t do it without your help. We’ve raised enough to pay for all of our committed expenses in salaries, website, phones, etc, in full- and every single dollar we raise now goes to yard signs. Goes to mailers. Goes to getting volunteers on the ground to canvass not just for our campaign, but every campaign up and down the ballot. And even more… to let folks know that Democrats ARE here, ready to fight and stand up for THEM.
Donate today- help us make the difference between the party and the pavement, and get our people-powered message out there. We’ve built our campaign on the grassroots strength of individual donors, coming $10, $20, or $27 at a time.
Volunteer today– our two volunteers from Northern Virginia hit almost a hundred houses on Saturday. Veterans of other rural campaigns just did a spit-take reading that, because, remember: this is Rockingham County, Virginia, not the suburbs of Richmond or Fairfax, with thirty feet in between doors and Democrats everywhere. They were nothing short of amazing– I can’t stress that enough. When we win in November- and when Lt. Governor Northam has record turnout for a Democrat in our District– it’ll be thanks to their hard work, along with all of our other volunteers who are knocking doors, making phone calls, and writing postcards.
Join us. Together, we’ll form the tip of the spear in the fight back against Trumpism, and show everyone else in the country the way forward on this together.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the Trump Winery district this fall. Donate, volunteer, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign, today!