Degner asks Democrats to court Trump voters

Kai Degner

WOODSTOCK – The Democratic candidate in the 6th Congressional District on Wednesday urged his fellow party members to reach out to Donald Trump supporters as part of an anti-establishment coalition.

Kai Degner, a Harrisonburg city council member and former mayor, told a meeting of Shenandoah County Democrats that he saw a path to victory over U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, by winning over voters eager for change.

Degner said he agreed with Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, that the nation’s political and economic system is “rigged” in favor of an elite group of business leaders and politicians. Degner considers Goodlatte, a 12-term congressman, among that group.

Degner, whose position on most issues is at odds with Trump’s, called on Democrats to forge an alliance with Republicans who chose Trump during the primaries over candidates favored by much of the GOP leadership.

“Those are people who, if they voted for Donald Trump in the primary, rejected 16 Bob Goodlattes,” Degner told the gathering. “We get that message out, and we flip 30,000 of them or 40,000 of them, we can win this thing.”

Degner said he recognized the long odds against him in a district where the last two Democratic congressional candidates finished with percentages of the vote in the mid-30s. But he said an uprising of politically diverse voters united by their disillusionment with the status quo could defeat Goodlatte.

Degner said Goodlatte ran as a kind of outsider himself when he was first elected to Congress in 1992 and promised to serve no more than six terms.

“He is now what he was afraid of in 1992,” Degner said of Goodlatte, who is chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

Messages seeking comment from Goodlatte’s campaign were not returned.

Goodlatte has had a mixed relationship with Trump. He is an adviser to the Trump campaign on agricultural issues and stood by his endorsement of Trump after the release of an audiotape in which the Republican was heard making lewd remarks about women. Goodlatte called Trump’s remarks “reprehensible” and “very disappointing to me.”

Degner identified libertarians, supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., traditional Democrats, traditional Republicans and Trump Republicans as the main parts of the coalition he wants to assemble against Goodlatte.

“The way for us to make that argument isn’t to go rail against Donald Trump with these people that are angry at a system that is rigged, in a system where corporate interests and special interests are disproportionately impacting law, impacting it more than we can,” Degner said. “We agree with that, many of us.”

He added: “Many of us, if you can’t get them off the Trump train, which I know is important, we have to listen to them. We have to let them vent. We have to let them feel dignified and then maybe they’ll open to the possibility, if they’re going to go vote for Trump, voting cross-ticket for a Democrat.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or