Editor's note: The following is a first-person account of a day on the campaign trail with 10th Congressional District candidate Kristin Cabral by Daily Region Editor Jeb Inge.
By Jeb Inge
It was around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday when a portion of the crowd at the Winchester Speedway turned ugly.
The ugliness was directed toward Kristin Cabral, whose only apparent crime was running for Congress as a Democrat. After refusing to abjectly disavow Barack Obama, two or three attendees laid into the 10th Congressional District candidate with the venom usually reserved for NFL replacement refs and Salem witch trials.
The depth of their argument rivaled that of a half-hearted rain puddle, but their drunken intensity was admittedly startling. One gentlemen opted for screaming racist comments into Cabral's face, while another less lucid individual just sat and yelled "Obama" into his female companion's face, apparently expecting some type of divine intervention.
In spite of good sense and logic, Cabral refused to run away and went so far as to actually engage them, as though reasonable conversation was still on the table.
As a rule, reporters are expected to stay out of the subject material, but considering that the only people with Cabral were myself and her pint-sized field manager, I almost pulled her out of there. After all, drunk or not, the rowdy bunch wasn't about to hit a woman. And they may have enjoyed getting their hands on a reporter even more.
Hours earlier, Cabral had been at a fundraiser with the well-to-do of Northern Virginia, and before that had attended what can only be described as the most depressing parade in Virginia's storied history. By that evening, she's running a gauntlet of cold silence and drunken insults at the Speedway.
Such is life on the American campaign trail.
Kristin Cabral is by no means a seasoned politician, something that was evident from the start of the day I spent following her campaign as it canvassed Virginia's 10th District. Well-versed politicians develop the all-important sixth sense that allows them to bring any question or accusation back to their vision of "the solution."
But each time I listened to Cabral interact with potential voters, it was clear she lacked experience as a pol.
Which isn't to say that's a bad thing.
When Cabral talks about being a former Girl Scout, her two kids (15 and a 14 year old who celebrated his birthday the day before,) or her time as a professional balancer of family check books, it's because she believes those roles, along with her family history, make her uniquely qualified for Congress. As the Tea Party demonstrated two years ago, today's political climate is tilted anti-incumbent. And there's very little about Kristin Cabral that comes across as "establishment."
The daughter of a self-employed accountant and secretary, both of her grandfathers dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, with one becoming a union truck driver and the other a factory foreman. Cabral was one of the first students to enroll in the "Head Start" program in its early years. She would become the first person in her family to graduate from college (University of Michigan,) and would graduate from Harvard Law in the same class as Barack Obama.
She would go on to serve as a federal prosecutor for the Justice Department in Washington and also would teach legal writing at George Washington University. When no one else signed on to challenge Frank Wolf this year, Cabral stepped up to the plate, lacking experience, money, and a good chance of success.
I was told Oct. 20 was a "slower" day than usual for the Cabral campaign, even though we made seven stops over 12 hours and covered almost 100 miles, from the gates of Washington to Winchester.
The day started early in Centreville for the community's first parade. Centreville doesn't have a distinctive downtown area, or at least not from the 1.5-mile parade route we walked. Parades might be good for face recognition, but they're usually a lot of waving and not much interaction. But none of that mattered Saturday, because crowd attendance for the entire parade couldn't have exceeded 20 people.
Cabral made the rounds at a mini-festival at the end of the parade route before moving on to two community festivals in Vale. At this point, her car has become a veritable wardrobe station. She would sport three different outfits throughout the day, and the inside of her SUV could pass for a department store checkout counter on Thanksgiving.
After introducing Anne Holten, wife of Gov. and Senate candidate Tim Kaine, at an event in the back of the typical NoVa shopping mall, the staff of roughly five was off to a McLean fundraiser with a crowd that made me glad I didn't skimp on wearing a tie.
Hunter Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, was in the house, as well as Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (Dranesville,) both of whom pledged their support for Cabral. At one point, a fundraiser attendee chatted me up, saying how happy she was with my father's performance as vice president. My name tag was clear and legible, but for once, I decided ignorance was bliss.
Cabral delivered a few brief remarks, but appeared slightly intimidated by the Big Money in attendance. She seemed much more comfortable talking to parents with small kids at the Vale festivals than delivering a stump speech in a gated community.
It's hard to tell what the Cabral camp truly believes will happen on Nov. 6. Each time I pressed staffers on internal polling, or their personal wild guesses, each one clammed up. When I asked the staffer who initially told me about polling what the results were, she stopped talking altogether and just shook her head. That's a bad game if you're hoping to exude confidence going into the campaign's final power play.
If history is any indicator, challenging Frank Wolf doesn't carry bright prospects. Wolf's closest campaign was the one that sent him to Washington for the first time in 1980. He won by 2 percentage points. Since 1982, Wolf has been reelected 14 times, winning with no less than 57 percent of the vote. In 19'94 and 2000, Democrats didn't even bother running against him, and when they did in '96, '98 and '02, he embarrassed them with 72 percent of the vote.
Cabral said she thinks it's time for Wolf to go, and said as much to voters and potential donors, claiming that Wolf originally campaigned on a platform that included instituting term limits. Wolf did support the GOP "Contract With America" in 1994, which, among other things, called for the implementation of term limits.
About halfway through her handshaking at the Speedway (and she tried to shake every single person's hand,) the PA system announced the candidate to the crowd.
Not a single person clapped or cheered except for a quiet cheer from the candidate herself.
Undeterred, she continued shaking hands and passing out literature to racing fans, who either threw the paper on the ground outright or stared at it with the interest one would likely have while browsing the phone book. This is all before the drunk brigade's verbal assault became the biggest troll job in the Shenandoah Valley since Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign.
I later asked Cabral why she even bothered shaking the hands of hundreds of people who would likely never vote for her. The question seemed to confuse her, as though the possibility of the Speedway attendees being decided voters never entered her mind.
Cabral said that she and those voters in the stands, including those who screamed obscenities in her face, shared more similarities than differences. The biggest problem in Washington, according to Cabral, is the refusal by some to even engage in conversation, a point that had been driven home in the stands just minutes earlier.
Contact Region Editor Jeb Inge at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org