Despite a late season snow storm that closed the Federal Government on St. Patrick’s Day, the show went on at the 11th Congressional District Republican candidates forum hosted by Dumfries Mayor Jerry Foreman. Over 40 people turned out to see the three declared candidates for the GOP nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly. Mike Litzelman, Gerald Geddes and Suzanne Scholte each had 30 minutes to make their case as to why voters should choose them.
Litzelman was up first. While he has an impressive background given his military service, work as a congressional aide and as a policy advisor to Bush 41′s 1988 campaign, he was overly reliant on his notes and at least in this forum did not project the feeling that he was connecting with the audience. (I felt bad for him when he dropped his papers on the floor during his presentation.)
I had the opportunity to ask him to give an example of a specific current or former member of Congress that he would be in the same vein as so we could have a better idea of what sort of congressman he would be. Unfortunately, we never got that name, only a long, drawn-out answer referencing “transparency.”
Next up was Geddes who raised the stakes last week with a series of bizarre emails where he seemed to be picking a fight with U.S. Senate candidate Shak Hill. Geddes explained during his 30 minutes that those emails were akin to professional wrestlers trash talking in order to play up a coming match. He could not explain how those emails would not be used against him in a general election campaign. (It is a good thing I did not record video of him given a few very unfortunate malapropisms that he uttered – this guy would be a tracker’s dream.)
One questioner asked Geddes how he as a freshman member of Congress could accomplish all the grand things he was proclaiming. His response was that he would go to the leadership with his solutions and realize that he wouldn’t get his name on the bill, but still play a role in advancing these ideas. He then went on to give as an example, “It’s like that guy, you know, the football quarterback, who went to Ronald Reagan with his ideas but wasn’t out front on things.” The crowd helpfully informed him that he was thinking of Jack Kemp. Unfortunately, that analogy fell flat as Reagan’s tax cuts, “The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981,” were better known as The Kemp-Roth Tax Cuts. At least in my book, Geddes almost earned a point for referencing Kemp, but wound up losing two full points for not remembering Kemp’s name or knowing that he did in fact have his name on a piece of signature legislation.
Finally, Suzanne Scholte took her turn. Rather than plowing through a laundry list of policy ideas, Scholte talked about herself and her family as an introduction, touched on some main ideas of her campaign and then opened the floor to questions. In taking this approach, she managed to engage the audience in a way that the other two had not in part because she was actively listening and then responding directly to the audience.
Scholte hit Gerry Connolly on his vote for the sequester, something that neither Frank Wolf nor Jim Moran voted for, and then related how that has harmed our military preparedness as well as veterans’ benefits not to mention the civilian defense contractor workforce that is so prevalent in the 11th district. She also discussed her outreach to both the Korean-American and Hispanic communities in the district, referencing how her work on behalf of human rights has brought her into close contact with both immigrant groups. Scholte came across as a female Frank Wolf and in fact stated that his retirement was one of the motivating factors that made her decide to enter the race.
Overall, it was 90 minutes well-spent and reaffirmed Virtucon’s earlier decision to endorse Scholte for the GOP nomination. She has proven herself to be a serious candidate, well-versed in the issues and knowledgeable on what it will take to win both in terms of strategy and fundraising. If Republicans want a real chance at defeating Gerry Connolly this November, they would be wise to nominate Suzanne Scholte in the 11th district.