WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County Democrats on Saturday criticized some of the state party’s political strategies ahead of the Nov. 5 elections.
Shyam Raman and Liddy Gallagher, political director, and deputy political director, respectively, for the Democratic Party of Virginia, spoke at the Shenandoah County Democratic Caucus meeting in Woodstock.
Democratic Party candidates for state offices Beverly Harrison and April Moore also attended the meeting. Harrison is challenging incumbent Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, for the District 15 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Moore is challenging Sen. Mark D. Obenshain for the District 26 seat in the state Senate.
Page County resident Samuel “Skip” Halpern commended Raman and Gallagher for attending the meeting, explaining what they do at the state level and then listening to the audience ask questions and raise concerns. Halpern called the party officials’ attendance at a Democratic committee meeting in the area a “rare exception.”
But Halpern expressed concerns about campaign material recently sent in support of Harrison, seated next to him.
“I was really taken aback by two emails that came from the Democratic Party of Virginia just stressing how important it was to defeat Todd Gilbert, what a bad guy he is, how powerful he is and not a word was mentioned about this person Beverley Harrison,” Halpern said. “I was stunned by that.
“It criticized Gilbert,” Halpern added. “It said send your money in. We want to defeat this guy and it said nothing about his opponent.”
Halpern said he saw this tactic as a waste of an opportunity to establish the counterpoint to Gilbert. Halpern added that the message left him infuriated and said he “felt like being used.” Other audience members echoed Halpern’s concern about the messages and at least one person said he found it offensive to not mention the party’s candidate.
Raman explained the impetus behind the email Halpern received. The party designed the email to play on outrage surrounding Gilbert in late January, Raman said. Raman added that party officials intend to make sure that future campaign emails mention Harrison or other Democratic candidates.
“It’s kind of tough in Virginia ‘cause they don’t have anybody who’s overly high profile,” Raman said, adding that campaign materials rarely mention Democratic candidates.
A couple of audience members questioned that tactic.
“Because people just — it’s playing on outrage,” Raman said.
“But it’s not playing on outrage, because it’s half of the equation,” Halpern said. “You can beat Todd Gilbert but does he have an opponent?
Gallagher chimed in and explained the strategy behind sending “outrage” message emails.
“These kinds of emails really work well to bring people in who aren’t in Virginia,” Gallagher said. “Someone in New York, in California, in Washington, who doesn’t have an election who gets our emails is like, ‘wow, that Todd Gilbert guy sucks, let me send money to Virginia,’ and it brings in people, get them interested in our elections.”
Then the party sends a second email that talks about the Democratic candidate, Gallagher said. Both kinds of email messages work, she added.
Trina West recalled an email message that angered some people in the area that did not come from the state party but rather the Virginia House of Delegates Democratic Caucus. Raman explained that the House of Delegates Democratic Caucus is a separate group from the Democratic Party of Virginia. The statewide party sends out its emails purely for fundraising, Raman said.
West later thanked the representatives for coming to the meeting but then gave them a message:
“We feel neglected out here,” West said. “We know our votes don’t matter that much in our own races in our district because, you know, the chances that our candidates are gonna win are slim.
“So we can intellectualize on that but we do still feel neglected by your organization and by campaigns,” West said.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story should have identified Beverly Harrison as the Democratic Party candidate running for the 15th District on the House of Delegates.