Grand Old Party Has Young Leader

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, November 11, 2010

PRINCE EDWARD – It was Thursday, two days after the hectic November 2 election day, and Daniel Bradshaw was picking up balloons that had once soared with helium but now returning to earth.

After months of buildup and preparation, the party was over.

Just witness the sinking balloons.

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Bradshaw was alone at the Republican headquarters downtown. This year's featured electoral event was a hotly contested Congressional race. Republican banner carrier Robert Hurt received more than 50 percent of the vote in the Fifth Congressional District in a three-way race, though he did not carry Prince Edward.

The story of Hurt's district-wide victory is a familiar one to those who follow politics. What makes this drizzly post-election day interesting isn't the now distanced election, but rather Bradshaw.

At 18 years of age, he is one of the youngest (if not the youngest) unit chairman of a party to take such a seat in the country. Barely old enough to vote himself, he is leading and organizing others more seasoned in the rough and tumble world of politics.

The sandy-haired chairman, wearing sweater vest, blue shirt and tie, breaks down numbers, analyzes this year's stats to past elections. He has a gushing, youthful, exuberant laugh that weaves its way into conversation. And, while many of his contemporaries are headed off to college or, perhaps, signed on for the military, he has stayed home where he owns his own landscaping business, though college could still be in his future.

“Yes, I do,” Unit Vice-Chairman Kathy Tran said when asked if she thought Bradshaw was energizing the local party. “I think that his commitment and his intelligence. I mean he's young so his intelligence is still growing, but, you know, sometimes when people are so busy in their own lives, boy a shot in the arm from an energetic idealistic kid is just what you need.”

Ms. Tran has been involved with the party “forever,” she says. The wife and mother also home schools her children, the youngest of which is 14.

“I think he's done extremely well, and I think particularly when you consider his age,” said Paul Hoffman, the local party's unit secretary, who has a long-time involvement in the Republican Party. “I think back to…where I was professionally and politically at 18 years old and…he's a unique individual that way. Partly, I think…having been home-schooled, he's matured, probably a little faster than a lot of kids mature and he's very highly motivated and he's been involved for awhile, so regardless of the fact that he's 18, he's been involved in politics for four or five years and so he's picked up a lot from that.”

But, Hoffman also assesses that Bradshaw has “probably picked up a little bit from us old dogs…a little of the, I guess wisdom that comes from age and experience and he's been a willing student in that arena, too…He's done very well.”

Bradshaw points to the fall of 2005 when asked about his passion for politics began.

“I was 13 at the time and I went to a board of supervisors meeting…here in Prince Edward and they had the Crestview issue going on then-that…developer wanted to do those townhouses over behind Crestview,” reflected Bradshaw, who does not live in Crestview but knew a couple of families there. “And I'd never been interested in politics never had…any desire for it. I mean I was only 13. And I was just shocked at the way it seemed to me the citizens were just railroaded by…most of the supervisors and…it was just like they didn't really care about what the citizens (wanted) that were just trying to preserve their quality of life in their neighborhood. So I got involved in that issue a little bit. I stood up and spoke at two successive meetings after that.”

From there, he (and his family) were involved in supporting the passage of Virginia's marriage amendment on the grass roots level. His parents were active politically, but not near as much as they are now, Bradshaw laughs.

In 2007, Bradshaw pitched in to help a friend running for the board of supervisors in Chesterfield as an independent. It was the first time he worked the polls.

“…It was quite interesting,” he said. “I have a pretty outgoing personality and so it wasn't too difficult for me, but I've said since then that everybody ought to work the polls once because it really gives you a in-depth look at…the American public.”

You see all sorts of people from every walk of life coming to vote, he adds.

Bradshaw's worked the polls every year in Prince Edward at his precinct at Buffalo Heights since then. He helped out in the 2008 Presidential election-made phone calls, put up signs, and worked all day election day. Still, he was not old enough to vote himself, though he says he wanted to make a difference.

“Even though I couldn't vote, I was able to do something to help,” Bradshaw said.

It was probably “less than three weeks,” Bradshaw says, when asked about the time between his birthday (last November) and registering to vote.

Republicans met to select their leaders last April and, though he had yet to go to the ballot box himself, Bradshaw was eligible to be chairman. (To join a political unit (GOP and Democrats), prospective members must be 18 and a registered voter.)

Hoffman recounted that the former chairman had indicated he was not going to run “and there was a group of us that got together and talked about OK, so who should we put forth as a candidate for unit chair and Daniel's name came out of that.”

As it turned out, Bradshaw would have to campaign for the position with the former chairman also deciding to seek the seat.

He won the position in the April Mass meeting, with some 75-80 in attendance. Bradshaw's first official vote (sort-of) was for himself as chairman.

“I spent a whole lot of time thinking about it…and I did some research and asked some questions about…how much work was actually involved. And, looking back, everybody told me how much work was (going to) be involved underestimated,” Bradshaw laughs. “But, a lot of it is how much work you put upon yourself to do.”

Asked if Bradshaw sort of has a natural gift for it, Hoffman said, “I would guess you would have to say he does. He seems to have a pretty good political sense and he seems to have a natural intuition in that area…”

The Republican Committee is up to about 45 members, more than triple what it was eight to nine months ago.

“I think part of that is due to the importance a lot of the people put on this election,” he said.

Reflecting back, he says there were times that if he hadn't had people he could depend on to delegate some of the work, Bradshaw says, he would have been up the creek. He also says he really couldn't have done a whole lot without the help and support of his officers and committee members and volunteers that pitched in. Basically, he says, he serves the position of organizer.

It has been a busy political season. As the campaign was winding down, over the last five weeks the local party made over 4,000 phone calls (the first 3,000 or so were voter identification and then they made over 1,000 get out the vote calls, remaining folks to vote), he cited. He also noted they made between 400-500 calls on election day and conducted a door-to-door effort in and around Farmville the Saturday before the election.

Outside of November 2, there were other events. A breakfast was held for Hurt at Hampden-Sydney; they spent that morning downtown talking with business owners and also held a luncheon at a Farmville restaurant.

There was a meet-and-greet held for the candidate on another occasion. The party had folks manning a booth at the fairgrounds at some portion of nearly every day as well as phone banking blitz nights, with volunteers making some 300-400 calls on an evening in a three-hour span.

“I believe that you should never ask anyone-and this is true in business as well as…organizing volunteers-you should never ask anybody to do something that you wouldn't do yourself,” Bradshaw said.

His first election came last June as the party faithful selected from among seven would-be candidates to run for Congress.

“It was like finally,” Bradshaw laughs, “finally get a chance to cast a vote.”

He would go on to add that it was very exciting and very rewarding to have finally made it to a point to where he could do more than make phone calls and hand out sample ballots on election day.

Bradshaw also found it frustrating that, as a business owner, he had to pay taxes but wasn't allowed to vote.

Asked about election night, Bradshaw described it as “exhausting…We had the victory party down here at the Daily Grind (a local coffee shop) and I just went over there and just collapsed in one of the big arm chairs…Wake me up when the results come in,” he laughed. “But I told…a number of people, I said to be honest with you, I really, really want…our candidate to win, of course, but even if he doesn't, I gotta be honest with you, I'll be glad when it's over cause it really, really is exhausting.”

He reflects back on the election, when asked how he thinks things went, Bradshaw feels they went “very well” but added that in anything he does, looking back in hindsight “you see where you could've changed things and done things a little bit better. But there's always room for improvement…no matter what you set yourself to do. But, overall, from starting with just running for chairman back in April and starting out with a mere 14 committee members and then here we are now, we've won the election, we have…about 45 members to our committee, we have had I'd say…since the primary…we have had between 60 and 70 volunteers helping us out.”

Bradshaw offers that in one sense he's “shocked” by how far they have come in a mere eight months, but deflected credit-noting a lot is due to a very supportive family and community volunteers.

Bradshaw, who will celebrate his 19th birthday this Saturday, is “pretty sure” he will one day run for some sort of elected office in the future.

Bradshaw graduated from high school in 2009 at age 17, but didn't head straight off to college because of his business (he owns Appomattox River Landscapes). The middle child of three has been on a three-year certificate program taking classes for landscape architecture through the University of Richmond, although that-with the expectation of a busy fall-doubled up earlier this summer and was on hiatus this fall.

“I really would like to first finish my certificate program and I really would like…to go to college first,” he said.

If he does go to college, Bradshaw assessed, he probably would need to retire as chairman at least temporarily “because as hard as it's been to keep up with my business and this, I know it would just practically be impossible for me to keep up with…this as well as going to college full time because we've had…several students from Longwood and Hampden-Sydney come and help us and they are only able to help here and there because their college schedule's so fully packed.”<br />
“Stepping back and looking at it, it does look a little odd, here is (an) 18-year old, not only is he the youngest person in the committee, but he's running the thing,” Bradshaw chuckles. “…So I'm up here sitting at the desk conducting a meeting and the next oldest person at the meeting is in their 40s, you know, pretty much. It does kind of strike you as a little odd, but so far it just really hadn't mattered to most people as long as things get done properly and get done well and we conduct ourselves well and are accomplishing things and raising money and holding events, it really doesn't matter to most of them how old I am.”

Prince Edward has kind of a reputation for younger folks to be involved. The former chairman attended the national Republican convention at the age of 18.

Bradshaw, perhaps in seasoned thought, offers that this year-for the unit-wasn't just about getting Hurt elected, “but getting a sustainable, well organized organization in this county.”