by Kellen Squire
There’s plenty to be said for what happened. But right now I’m cherishing the quiet.
I’ve spent an inordinate time sleeping; I sent a tweet out at 9:30pm on election night, closed up our watch party, tended to the volunteers and staffers who were more upset about the results than I was, and headed home. Walked through the front door, plopped down on the couch, and almost passed out from exhaustion.
I say “almost passed out” because the exhaustion was there- it was bone-tiring. The three hours of sleep I’d had in the last 36 hours was crushing, at the tail end of the last month of 18-21 hour days. Weary. At my limits.
But I couldn’t go to sleep. The paradox of being so tired I couldn’t fall asleep was actually so deliriously funny I began to laugh- a big, deep, belly laugh at the inanity of it. Which is the last thing I remember, laughing myself to sleep.
Spent most of yesterday doing just that. The baby actually slept in a bit; I woke up before he did. But when he and his older brother went to preschool? I went back to sleep until it was time to pick them up. And early-afternoon naptime was the first I’ve been able to enjoy with them since March or so; no campaign work to be done now.
I did an inordinate amount of housework, finally pulling my weight in that. The dryer chose now to breakdown, which was nice of it to wait until things were all done to finally kick out. Sat. Enjoyed nothing. No demands on my time, no campaign emergencies, no preparations or decisions to be made.
People ask me what’s next. I honestly don’t know, beyond this- I intend to pass on our hard-earned knowledge and experience to as many folks who are willing to learn as possible. There are 48 other states with elections next year, and every single Congressional district. And I sure as hell didn’t gain this knowledge simply to shepherd it.
It was a campaign that was never supposed to be possible; in one of the toughest districts in the Commonwealth, against the toughest incumbent. Remember, he worked hand-in-hand with Ed Gillespie on Operation RedMap. He literally drew the lines for our district himself, and after “only” winning 66/33 in 2009, he made sure to draw our district even *redder* than it had been. Nobody ever claimed he was stupid. He had more money than any incumbent delegate. He had the ear of the President himself, in the Trump Winery district.
But we shrugged at all of that, and ran a hell of a campaign anyhow. The team I worked with was second to none, and will never be again replicated in the history of Virginia politics. If you took an unholy amalgamation of the teams from “The A-Team”, “Oceans Eleven”, and “Super Troopers”, you’d have close to what we had- close, but nowhere near as awesome.
There’s a quote attributed to the Spartans at Thermopylae, who were told that the strength of the Persian Army was such, that they had so many archers their arrows would blot out the sun, simply replied: “Then we will fight in the shade.”
That was what it felt like, day in and day out- but we fought anyway. We made things work with spit and duct tape. If we didn’t have something, we’d create it from scratch, MacGuyver style. Roadblocks never stopped us. When told something was impossible, we just ignored it and accomplished our goal anyhow. We out-organized anyone in this part of Virginia at any level, ever before.
The other reason we were able to persevere in the face of incredible odds were the sacrifices that were made. And there were a lot of sacrifices made. I put almost 25,000 miles on my truck, and in grassroots, insurgent campaigns like ours, there’s no mileage reimbursement. After being accepted into the Nurse Practitioner program at James Madison University, I thought I could eke by with one class this semester to keep my dream of being an FNP- but instead spent $1,600 on tuition I’ll never get back, and had to drop the class after seeing I’d have to choose that or the campaign. And we’re going to end with about $250-$500 in the bank, so- by our fingernails.
But it’s not just money. That’s the “easiest” thing to have sacrificed. My youngest took his first steps when I was at a campaign event. My daughter’s mother and I share custody of her; the last weekend I had to spend campaigning and door-knocking instead of with her, and thanks to a quirk of the calendar (where Thanksgiving falls), I’m going to go over a month without seeing her. And there were a mountain of “not right now, hon” and “Just give daddy a minute” moments over the last nine months I’ll never get back.
And our campaign team, too- our staff. Our volunteers. They put their heart and soul into this. Me putting in 40-60 hours a week makes sense. They did it too, though, and made just as big (if not bigger) sacrifices than I did.
Going out into rural places where politicians have never tread? It made a difference; it made a huge difference. My opponent never cracked his ceiling he hit at 18k votes running opposed in 2009- he matched it this year. But we went from 8k in a much bluer district in 2009 to just under 12k votes this year- 11,788.
My friend Lee Carter, who I was so proud to watch win, told me what we accomplished was a “big damn deal”, and pointed out I’d even exceeded his own vote total in a district not just a few, but MANY points redder than in 2009. And we did it with one of, if not the, highest-performing GOP precincts in the entire state- Swift Run in Rockingham County, where our opponent literally made up 1k votes of his margin alone. Almost exceeded presidential numbers.
And I can’t write this today without pegging the power of the Netroots. That was the genesis of our fundraising team, and we had damn near three thousand unique donations this cycle. My opponent had had eight thousand his entire career, here at the start of his ninth term. He’s had more corporate donations than we’ve had donations period. That grassroots strength powered us. It kept us going. It wouldn’t have been possible without it.
And I’ll get into this more in diaries to come, but look- in 2013 and 2015, my opponent was the chief fundraiser for the Republican House caucus. Since he ran unopposed, it was his job to hand out checks to candidates who were running competitive races- and he did, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was supposed to be his job again; in March, they made him the Caucus Election Chair. It was his job to preserve and expand the map for Republicans in the House of Delegates- only one pickup would give them a veto-proof majority. That was his stated goal.
Instead, he kept that money here. He spent it here. He ran two incredibly expensive polls, and was so worried after the second one that he outbid Northam and Gillespie on buying TV ad space, flooding the local airwaves with it. If he did send any money, which we’ll find out in December, it was too little, too late. Because he is now officially the worst election chair in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
But it wasn’t me who did that. It was you- all of you.
Every single day for the last nine months, people made calls. Knocked on doors (more than any HOD campaign in this area, ever). Sent e-mails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram pictures; they held barbecues, cocktail hours, parties, soirees, and small get togethers in their homes. They came out every day since I announced, and they didn’t do it because of me.
They did it because they believed that 400,000 working Virginians deserve access to healthcare.
They did it because they believed in an economy that gives everyone a chance at a good job; at training opportunities for people struggling to find work; at an education system that lifts every child up to their full potential.
They believed the government didn’t belong in the space between women and their doctor, or in ANYONE’s bedroom- but instead, that it was meant to ensure the civil rights of every person regardless of race, color, creed, religion, or sexual orientation.
They believed in tearing down institutionalized racism. In improving government responsiveness. In the importance of elected leaders that listen to and care about their constituents.
All of you here didn’t stand with me.
I stood with you.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.