They’re out of money. Even the campaign managers aren’t being paid.
But the staff for Virginia Beach Democrat Karen Mallard is relying on a technique that’s free and helped some Democrats win seats last year in state races — the old-fashioned door knock.
“We are all volunteers,” said Alex Josey, a retired Army officer from Virginia Beach who’s among the force that’s been working for Mallard and hoping for an upset over Elaine Luria, a strongly-funded candidate thanks to an early endorsement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“It irritates us that the DCCC got involved before the primaries were completed,” Josey said. “So, yeah, it makes us work harder.”
Could Mallard, a schoolteacher and union member, upend Luria, a former naval officer with significantly more money? Voters in Virginia Beach, the Eastern Shore and parts of Norfolk and the Peninsula will decide Tuesday, and the winner will face first-term Rep. Scott Taylor, R-2nd in November, if he makes it past underdog primary opponent Mary Jones, a former chairwoman of the James City County Board of Supervisors.
Mallard has taught public school for 30 years, mostly in Virginia Beach and currently in Chesapeake.
With Taylor considered potentially vulnerable, the DCCC opted to recruit a candidate of its own. U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, told the Hotline in November that the party would have a great candidate in Luria. She formally announced in January, about four months after Mallard began her campaign.
The DCCC announced Luria would get operational and fundraising support. That led to a significant cash advantage for Luria to use TV ads and direct mail in the primary. As of May 23, Luria had outspent Mallard $283,686 to $49,203.
Jacob Peters, a DCCC staffer who works with Virginia races, declined to comment on the race.
Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, was a state lawmaker who ran for the seat in 2016, but first had to clear a hurdle in his own party. Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes in the neighboring 4th District decided to abandon it and run in the 2nd after a court-ordered redistricting made the 4th shift Democratic.
Despite outspending Taylor, Forbes lost badly. Taylor lived in Virginia Beach, the anchor of the district, and Forbes from Chesapeake was considered an outsider.
Mallard’s followers hope hometown appeal may work to her benefit on Tuesday. Giving them more fodder, Luria, who lives in Norfolk, voted for Taylor twice — in his primary and in the general election when he faced Democrat Shaun Brown.
In February, Luria’s campaign said she voted for Taylor in the primary to cast a vote against Forbes because of his conservative positions. Her campaign said she then supported Taylor in the general election because he was a veteran like her and promised change. The seat was previously held by GOP Rep. Scott Rigell, who opted not to seek re-election.
Luria’s naval career spanned 20 years; she now owns a business called Mermaid Factory that sells mermaid souvenirs.
“We have stayed focused on relying heavily on who Elaine is and telling her story to voters,” said Luria campaign manager Kathryn Sorenson. “She’s working very hard to earn every vote.”
Mallard positioned herself as a progressive with unabashed support for organized labor. She sawed her husband’s AR-15 in half in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in a viral video that enraged gun rights supporters.
Mallard’s call for a $15 minimum wage forced Luria to adopt that position, said Krystal Ball, who heads a PAC called People’s House Project that supports working-class candidates, and has helped Mallard.
“It’s really difficult to know,” Josey said of what will happen Tuesday. “However, as far as enthusiasm goes, we think we’re going to win. All of our people and the people that we talk to canvassing and on the phone, we have a very good feeling about how it’s going to end up on Tuesday night. But you never know anything for sure.”