FARMVILLE – The Democratic Party's Fifth District nominating contest appears to have gone supersonic for retired Air Force Brigadier General John Douglass.
The party's May 19 convention in Nelson County is expected to confirm the Fauquier County resident's overwhelming caucus results over fellow Democrat, Peyton Williams, of Charlottesville.
The caucus tallies total 189 delegates the general, with 23 for Williams; 113 delegates are needed for the nomination.
“It was a huge landslide,” General Douglass said during a telephone interview with The Herald Wednesday afternoon. “We're very grateful to the folks in the Fifth for all their support.”
Between now and Election Day, General Douglass will be working to introduce himself across the sweeping Fifth District.
Who, then, is John Douglass, the person?
“John Douglass, the person, is a retired Air Force general, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a farmer in Fauquier County, a father of four-two of them still at home, two young boys at home, married to a wonderful woman who's a great champion for women's issues in Virginia, got a daughter who's also a champion for women's issues, both going down to Richmond this weekend to join in the protests against the war on women,” he answered.
Service to his country, he replied, is what makes him tick. “I've been in service to my country since I was a very young man. I was homeless when I was in high school and worked my way through high school in a foster home, and worked my way through college. Went into the service. I took ROTC and got a commission in the Air Force when I graduated from college. And pretty much been in government service all my life, except for a few years when I was trying to retire and keep flunking retirement.”
Fifth District residents should vote for him, he answers, because “I'm a person who knows how to work to get things done. And I have experience in the military, experience in the business community, and I probably testified before Congress several hundred times, and I was a staff member, a senior advisor to Senator Sam Nunn on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate for four years so I know how to work across party lines and I know how to break this gridlock in Washington. And probably important for our district is I am passionate about education and bringing jobs to the Fifth District-those are my highest priorities.”
Douglass served in the military for nearly four decades and was so involved in President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Modernization Program that he “briefed the president directly on key defense and national security programs,” according to Douglass' website.
After his retirement, Douglass was asked by President Bill Clinton to serve in the Pentagon as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition.
On Wednesday, General Douglass was asked to define his values in life and replied, “I have a deep love for my country. My country has allowed me to be a successful person because of hard work and not because I was born into a wealthy family, not because I had some kind of special privilege and I'm passionate about creating opportunity for all of our people, not just those lucky enough to be born into elite situations. I view all of our citizens as assets to our country. Every one of us are Americans and I'm absolutely committed to a government that treats us all equally as Americans, regardless of our race, our religion, our sex or our sexual preference or whatever category somebody might try to dredge up.”
The general attributes his overwhelming success in the caucuses to “hard work. And I think the issue here for Democrats was who can beat Robert Hurt, who's the best candidate and who will make the best congressman? As you can see, when you have an overwhelming victory like that the people made their choice very, very clear. It wasn't anywhere near close. But it took a lot of hard work.”
In the last 30 to 40 days before the caucusing, General Douglass said he did “something like 65 town halls. As you know, it's a huge district. To get that many town halls in you're spending somewhere between four and eight hours on the road every day, staying up till midnight or later getting back and I have to get up every morning at six o'clock because I've got a son to get to school and farm animals to take care of and chores, so it just takes a lot of hard work.”
Looking ahead to the campaign against incumbent Republican congressman Robert Hurt, and asked what he sees as the congressman's vulnerabilities, General Douglass said, “he votes right straight with his party and his party is definitely out of sync with the American people; they're way out of sync with women; and they're way out of sync with working families.”
Hurt, he added, “is not a veteran, never served a day in his life in the uniform of his country, and he's not a farmer. And this is a district with 21 percent veterans and a huge percentage of farmers. So I think once the people begin to see a clear choice between him and me we're going to see some pretty dramatic results.”
Presidential campaigns always have an impact on other elections and 2012 will be no different.
“As we know,” he said, “presidential races have coattails, and right now the president is running substantially ahead of Romney in Virginia, particularly among women-it's a double-digit gap.
“And there's another key race going on and that's Tim Kaine's race to be our senator. Tim's going to make a great senator. He's much, much more qualified and better candidate that (George) Allen and so that will be helpful as well. So the Obama-Kaine-Douglass ticket is going to sell well in the Fifth, and we're looking forward to that. We'll be doing some events together, probably in May.”
With the Fifth District's history of electing Democrats and Republicans, how will General Douglass reach out to those who voted for Rep. Hurt two years ago?
“I think they need to check me out and what they're going to see,” he said, “they're going to see a candidate that is superior in about every category-experience, service to his country, ability to get the job done across the aisle, somebody's who's worked on both sides of the aisle. I was director of Defense Programs in the Reagan White House and the number two general over in NATO during the first Gulf War. I took many, many senators from both sides of the aisle to Yugoslavia during the wars over there. The American people are smart. When they have a clear choice in terms of qualifications they usually respond pretty strongly to that.”
The Fifth District is huge. Before the recent redistricting that added Fauquier and two other counties it was right there with Rhode Island and Connecticut.
“It's bigger than New Jersey now,” General Douglass points out.
The challenge to reach out to a district that large is substantial.
“There's only one answer to that and that's hard work…The kind of work we did in those 30-some days leading up to our caucus. It's going to take from morning till midnight every night or later of hard work. And I've already made,” he continued, “just to put it into perspective, coming into today I've made 14,372 calls and I'm at about 80 calls today. Between the calls and the moving all over it's hard work but I'm used to that. If you own a farm and you've been in the military you know what hard work is.”
If elected, General Douglass would try to bridge the bitterly partisan divide in Washington by calling on his bipartisan political experience in the nation's capital, and using common sense.
“First of all, you have to be able to reach across the aisle. In other words,” he said, “you don't try to categorize the other side as demonic or anything like that. I have a long history of (reaching across the aisle). And I actually have friends on the other side that I've worked with in the past. So, there again, it's kind of hard work.
“One of the things people have talked about in the past that they think has led to this polarization is the fact that these members of Congress don't go on (working) trips together. All the Republicans only go with Republicans and all the Democrats all go with Democrats. And I'll be reaching across the aisle to try to get things done.”
Meanwhile, in his quickly diminishing spare time the general will work on his farm.
“I own a small vineyard and it takes a lot of work, a lot of bush-hogging and spraying and getting out checking on things. You know, when I'm sitting out there on my tractor going up and down the rows,” he said, “I'm surrounded by the mountains, the river's right on the edge of our farm and just being grateful that we live in a state that is so beautiful and where you can make an honest living through working hard. There's a lot to be grateful for and I'm at my happiest when I'm here on my farm.”