This morning’s news brings an oddity in Virginia’s 5th District. Tom Garrett’s campaign has chosen to put Albemarle business owner George Benford on blast for supporting his Democratic opponent, Jane Dittmar. More accurately, Garrett claims that Benford isn’t even a Republican given his long history of donating to Democratic candidates.
…yet there’s one small problem with that narrative. Benford is a Trump supporter  — one of the legions of Trump supporters swayed by the Republican nominee’s populist line. From the Daily Progress:
On Monday, Benford disputed Garrett’s claims about him not being a Republican.
Claiming to have previously voted for the district’s retiring Republican congressman, Robert Hurt, Benford said he supports Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump but favors Dittmar in the 5th District race. When asked why he is supporting Trump, he said he could not bring himself to support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, saying he has “no respect for her.”
Benford, a self-described “moderate Republican,” said the financial disclosures don’t include his contributions to Republican presidential candidates. With the exception of supporting Democrat Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election, Benford said he has always voted for Republican presidential candidates.
“I have been a Republican for more than 40 years. I don’t know how much more Republican I can be,” he said. “Everyone in the city knows I’m a Republican.”
…and he’s not wrong. Benford comes exactly as advertised — your typical moderate “Chambercrat” Republican.
Of course, this is a seat where Trump’s candidacy has effectively taken a solid and defensible Republican district and put it on the brink. Washington has certainly noticed , as published in The Hill:
A recent Democratic poll showed Trump leading Clinton 46 to 42 percent in this district, down from a 9-point lead in July. In the survey, conducted Oct. 10-12 by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research for the DCCC, Dittmar trailed Garrett by 6 points, 41 to 47 percent. That’s a closer margin than in July, when she trailed by 10 points.
But Republicans are looking at more optimistic data for them. An internal poll conducted last weekend by Meeting Street Research for Garrett’s campaign gave him a 50 to 39 percent lead. Garrett had a 30 percent favorable to 14 percent unfavorable rating, while Dittmar’s favorables and unfavorables were tied at 22 percent each. The polling release did not include presidential numbers.
One will note that the Democratic polls were conducted before Trump’s “grab ’em” moment could be registered; one will also note that Garrett’s poll was conducted in response to flagging internals (and yes, that’s sourced).
The problem here is that the campaign has been typified by what could only be termed as a sadly typical bullying approach from one source — the Republican nominee . From the Washington Post:
“She is dumb as a box of rocks they will take her head off it they don’t rape her first,” read one message. Another said: “Jane you are a retarded and should disembowel yourself with a spoon.”
By Monday night, Dittmar instructed her staff to take down the page; it was reactivated Tuesday morning with nearly 5,000 messages.
This sadly are the two lines that encapsulate the entire campaign effort in VA-05. Naturally, the Garrett campaign was forced to walk back the efforts of the campaign staff  to drum up the social media army (one post on a non-public GOP Facebook page stated that the gentleman outside the Fluvanna offices was open carrying and handing out Bibles… whether that is true or not would be immaterial — the ask was to head over to the Dittmar’s page and tell her how one felt about her gun-grabbing sentiments, etc.)
Yet for a campaign that has claimed to be up 11-points throughout the election season, negative campaigning does not typify the confidence of an 11-point lead. To the point, no one believes that Garrett is up by 11 points… much less the Garrett campaign itself. Nor does the DCCC believe Garrett is up by 11 points… or 8 points… or 6 points… or even 4 points. For Speaker Ryan to come in with first $400,000 only to find himself doubling that amount to $800,000 to run on negative ads?  Does that sound like a campaign up 11 points?
…and when I say negative ads, they’re pretty negative (even if you have a female voiceover). See for yourself:
I suppose what is bothering me with all of this is the bullying. For those familiar with Garrett’s style of “guerrilla campaigning” this is all too typical. It’s how Garrett won the State Senate nod in a five-way race. The same bullying is how Garrett won a hotly contested convention for the VA-05 nod against Del Rosso and three others — most of whom have never spoken to Garrett in the aftermath. The same manipulation has played out with the heirs apparent for the SEN-22 seat, where more than one successor feels as if they have the personal guarantee of the incumbent to support them for the nomination.
This election effort in Virginia’s 5th District seems no different in terms of tactics. Every two weeks, Dittmar seems to be facing some new bullying tactic consisting of a dirty-but-all-too-cute play to get her off message — a poor man’s LBJ style focusing far too much on identity rather than ideas . From the Daily Progress editorial:
The publicizing of the Fluvanna incident has resulted in the Dittmar campaign being assaulted, figuratively, by “threats and aggressive language” directed toward the campaign and some of its personnel.
This kind of behavior is deplorable. There is no excuse for this kind of filth.
What’s more, it escalates — in more ways than one — a situation that previously had been limited and contained.
. . .
Ms. Dittmar has since made a statement deploring the lack fairness and civility in this controversy. In that, she is very wise. We agree with her wholeheartedly.
I will say this much — the only true idea that has come out of the entire race thus far? Garrett’s idea to reduce student debt by
$10,000 $7,000 $5,000 per deferred year of social security benefits. That’s innovative — it’s the sort of ideas factory that Garrett can provide when he at his best, and it’s what Virginians want to hear.
Unfortunately, ideas such as those are blotted out when the campaign chooses to focus on attacking Trump supporters, booting people from local GOP committees for being critical (wink), knocking Dittmar off message (by hook or crook), or engaging in social media guerrilla tactics more attuned to the alt-right than “reform conservatism” within the GOP.
I would not be surprised in the slightest if Benford and Garrett — if they traded ideas over coffee — would find much to agree upon. Sadly, that conversation never occurred with Benford and many others in the Charlottesville business community — and it has been remarked upon at places such as Keswick Hall. In microcosm, this is the frustration of the entire VA-05 race from the Republican perspective.
Perhaps that is the best place to set the conversation down for now. When Garrett does win the November general election, perhaps the first place he can begin to shed the bullying tactics that carried him to public office, and emerge into his better qualities.
UPDATE: Wasting absolutely no time, Team Garrett starts in with the very same tactics  we criticize here — the bullying:
…of course, the insinuation is that folks just “hate” Garrett, or that they are not loyal Republicans when they criticize certain tactics. Tactics such as these.
Maturation and communication tend to resolve 99% of such instances. Or — just maybe — don’t bully people.