Can Kai Degner flip the script in the Sixth?

kai degnerKai Degner is, as he admits, 24 years and a million dollars behind in his race for the Sixth District congressional seat.

The Democratic nominee only got into the race on June 8, again admittedly a bit late, at least a year, maybe two.

He doesn’t have time to spend three to four hours per day to make calls for the $2,700 campaign donors, and it’s not like the $27 donors are lining up, either.

And yet the former Harrisonburg mayor is “all-in.”

“In thinking about how you pull an operation like this off, I really approach it as a business. It’s a startup business on steroids, with a drop-dead date, on Election Day,” said Degner, in a live Facebook interview with me on Tuesday in Waynesboro.

Degner is, according to his resume, anyway, a real-estate agent, but you don’t run for Congress and hold a full-time job in this day and age, so he refers to himself right now as “effectively unemployed.”

His business background tells him he’s “starting from scratch,” and having done that as an entrepreneur, he’s not shying away from the challenge.

“How do you start from zero? You really have to start from there and how you introduce yourself to as many people as possible,” said Degner, acknowledging the uphill battle that he faces in the far-flung Sixth District, which stretches from Front Royal down Interstate 81 to Roanoke, and crosses over the Blue Ridge into Lynchburg.

It’s roughly a three-hour drive from one end of the district to the other, with distinct different media markets in the Front Royal-Winchester area, Harrisonburg, Staunton-Waynesboro, Roanoke and Lynchburg.

Degner has a background in working in alternative media and community organizing, which will be helpful in his effort to build political coalitions in the expanse of the Sixth.

“Coalitions of people doing good in communities, they already exist. My job is to find the people who are already doing the good work, introduce myself and get them plugged into the campaign,” Degner said.

Degner knows well that he can’t pull the major upset in the safest of safe GOP districts by simply getting Democrats in the Sixth to pull the lever for him.

He sees commonalities with the base of Republican voters that shocked the political conventional wisdom by pushing Donald Trump to the GOP presidential nomination.

“The people who are for Trump, who want to change D.C., it’s inconsistent to go for Bob Goodlatte, because Bob Goodlatte is the establishment,” said Degner, noting that the same voter discontent with the status quo fueled Democrat Bernie Sanders to a near-miss in what became a surprisingly tight race with eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.

“What we’re seeing is a real diverse group of people getting connected with my campaign,” Degner said. “We see conservatives doing it, libertarians doing it, Bernie supporters, Hillary supporters. It’s a combination of people being more frustrated with Congress not working.”

You can next hear Degner making his case to Republican voters, and yes, it’s a compelling case.

“We’ve got a Republican primary process that just rejected 16 Bob Goodlattes, just rejected 16 establishment candidates,” Degner said. “The Republicans and conservatives want change in the way Congress works. The challenge is, how do you break a generation of habit of voting for the same guy in Bob Goodlatte. That’s not going to be easy to do, but I don’t think this is impossible. I think this is the year where the establishment has been rejected.”

Story by Chris Graham

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