It’s June 2017. Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello were locked in an extremely competitive gubernatorial primary here in the Commonwealth. Both candidates were strong and had organized, passionate supporters desperate to win the nomination and ensure that we kept a Democrat in the Governor’s office. There were worries, however, that such a competitive primary would destabilize our party, suppress enthusiasm, or worse, give the Republican nominee material for the general election.
By the time the June 13 primary rolled around, it was clear to see that folks were invested, committed, and involved. It also showed at the polls – 177,000 more voters showed up to vote in the Democratic primary than in the GOP primary.
Ralph Northam ended up winning the nomination, but Tom Perriello did an extremely important thing: he very quickly and very publicly supported Ralph Northam. By doing that, Tom’s many supporters received a clear and strong message that, although he was not the nominee, he was still committed to the overall goal of making sure that, in 2018, a Democratic governor would be sworn in.
On June 14, the Democratic Party had a motivated, active and WELL-DRILLED base. Gone were the quarrels and ideological tests of the primary. Everyone knew there was one goal – win in November – and we were together in that mission.
My own journey to defeat Rob Wittman began on January 4, 2017.
At the time, I was the only Democratic candidate in the race and, in a district that hadn’t had a Democratic Primary in this millennium, I wasn’t expecting to have to run against other Democrats. But I’m glad that the First Congressional District has three candidates in this race. This process has been a learning experience, and whoever is the winner on June 12th will be a tougher and stronger candidate, more organized and definitely ready to beat Wittman.
After the 2016 presidential primaries, many have been hesitant to get involved in primaries they fear can quickly devolve into negativity, leaving one side bitter – and both sides divided.
Here in Virginia, we’ve seen that it does not have to be that way. In 2017, a competitive, open process resulted in great candidates who would go on to win in difficult districts as well as statewide. From the gubernatorial primary right on down to House of Delegates primaries, candidates had to strengthen and distinguish themselves in front of their toughest audience (other Dems) before moving on to the general.
There are real differences between candidates in a primary, and I encourage everyone to find the candidate whose qualities and positions on the issues are most compelling to them. As candidates, we need to be tough enough to realize that no one wins with 100% of the vote. The good news is that after the primary, all the folks we may have bumped heads with prior to June 12 will be in the foxhole right next to us on June 13m ready to finish the job and take on Rob Wittman in November.
I firmly believe that actively engaging as many voters as possible during the primary is the key to success in November. The eventual nominee will have a large, motivated army of volunteers and supporters who are already invested, and who have been actively campaigning for months. Instead of disengaging so as not to offend anyone, I think it’s best that as many people get involved in the primary process so they are battle tested and ready to face off with Rob Wittman. The First Congressional District isn’t used to a primary, or in some places, even a Democrat. We have to get out there and let the entire district know that we’re Democrats, that we’re here and that we’re fighting for them. Not on June 13. TODAY.
So, get out there and make calls, knock doors, share posts, and donate to the candidate who most inspires you. Regardless of how the Democratic primary on June 12 goes, I look forward to working with all of you to flip America’s First Congressional District BLUE.
Edwin Santana is a Puerto Rican, a father, husband, son, engineer, USMC Officer and Logistics Consultant with a commitment to service and to the progressive ideals needed to secure a better future for all Virginians. As a candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 1st District, he is continuing his public service by fighting for a single-payer healthcare system, strengthening of our public school system, securing economic opportunities and broadband internet access for all Americans, protecting the local environment, and bringing an end to our culture of sexual violence.