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Ken Mitchell is the kind of Democrat who can win in our part of Virginia

Chris Graham
ken mitchell
Photo: Ken Mitchell for Congress/Facebook

Ken Mitchell, the Democrat challenging Trump Republican Ben Cline for the Sixth District seat in Congress, isn’t going to get a writeup in Blue Virginia.

Ben Tribbett isn’t going to tweet about his campaign.

Richmond and Northern Virginia Democrats are going to ignore him, like the ignore everybody else with a D beside their name west of the Route 29 corridor.

Which is a shame.

Because Ken Mitchell is the kind of Democrat who actually has a Tom Perriello ‘08 longshot chance of winning in November.

“Everybody is, you know, concerned about making sure that that our democracy remains strong, and they’re looking for level-headed leadership. And I can tell you, leading from the middle, I can reach across the aisle to a Republican as quick as I can a Democrat, as long as they’re leaning into the common good, and the legislation is for the good of the people of the Sixth District. I will work with anyone,” Mitchell told me during an interview for an AFP podcast this week.


You can see there why the activists and party apparatchiks are laying low on what’s going on out our way this election cycle.

But campaigning from the middle is what you need to do to have any chance of success as a D in the Sixth District, which stretches from the West Virginia line in the Winchester-Frederick County area down the I-81 corridor to Roanoke and Salem.

It’s roughly 190 miles from one end of the district to the other, with a few small metrpolitan areas – Winchester, Harrisonburg, Staunton-Waynesboro, Lexington, Roanoke-Salem – and a lot of farmland.

Politically, the Sixth has been solid red since Bob Goodlatte, Cline’s mentor and predecessor, first won the seat in 1992.

The best that Democrats in the Sixth have been able to do in the past 32 years is the 40.2 percent that Jennifer Lewis got in the race against Cline in 2018, the first election after Goodlatte’s retirement, meaning the Sixth was technically an open seat that year.

Donald Trump, who will be back on the presidential ballot in November, got a shade under 60 percent in 2020, and it’s a safe bet that he’ll be in the same range in the district in the 2024 race.

Given all that, it would be an uphill battle for whoever would get the Democratic nomination out here.

What excites me about Mitchell, a 24-year military veteran-turned-Rockingham County organic farmer, is that he fits the mold for the kind of Democratic congressional nominee that I’ve long thought we need in this part of the state.

Basically, he reminds me of Mark Warner, who has won four statewide races, dating back to his 2001 win in the governor’s race, with a strategy that has had him not conceding the parts of Virginia west of Charlottesville.

Mitchell, after retiring from the U.S. Army, worked in the broadband sector in Northern Virginia, before launching a construction company specializing in historic renovation that was hired to oversee infrastructure improvements at Monticello in Albemarle County.

He then joined an engineering firm that worked with contractors and municipalities in Augusta County, Rockingham County, Shenandoah County and Roanoke on upgrades to water-management systems, before retiring, thinking he was going to put his attention toward organic farming.


Link to interview with Ken Mitchell on YouTube.

His entry into the Sixth District congressional race is his first foray into elected politics. Mitchell said he was motivated to run after taking stock of the attempted insurrection led by Trump loyalists on Jan. 6, 2021.

“When you start to look at the obstructionism, the chaos and all the divisiveness that is coming out of one of our parties, that, to me is not a strong democracy,” Mitchell said. “We have men and women that have fought and died for democracy, and we cannot let it die, let it die a slow death, through being strangled by obstructionists. And when you see the 118th Congress being the most unproductive Congress in modern history, that is simply unacceptable. People expect our elected officials to get in there, do their jobs and legislate, and not try to be up there grandstanding to get airtime and television time and things like that. We need to bear down and do the hard work for the people.”

Cline’s time in Congress, dating to 2019, has been all about grandstanding for TV airtime.

Specific to Jan. 6, hours after the Trump loyalists had been cleared from the U.S. Capitol, Cline voted to decertify the 2020 presidential election, siding with Trump on the side of the Big Lie.

Cline’s most recent effort at getting attention for himself was being part of the team that led the politically-motivated impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, which came to a spectacular failure this week in a party-line vote in the U.S. Senate.

It’s hard to point to anything substantive that either Cline or his predecessor, Goodlatte, has done legislatively over the past three decades to benefit people living in the Sixth District.

“Where I think they have failed us is in the rural reaches of our district.” Mitchell said. “Our rural elements of the district have somewhat been left behind, for example, in broadband deployment. You know, you can’t do precision farming if you don’t have broadband, you can’t start a home business, our children in rural areas can’t do their homework as effectively, and often have to stay later just to have that connectivity. You know, rural hospitals, of 29 rural hospitals in Virginia, 20 of them no longer have maternity services.

“The rural parts of our district have been left behind, in my mind, and that’s what we need to strengthen,” Mitchell said.

It’s important to note that when you hear Mitchell talk about “leading from the middle,” as he did often in our interview, his idea of “from the middle” isn’t akin to both-sidesism that you see from some self-proclaimed moderates on issues like abortion, civil rights and healthcare.

“I’m fully, 100 percent, in support of a woman’s right to choose. But I think the issue is a little bit larger than that. This is, you know, where we have been bearing down on women’s rights in general,” Mitchell said.

“You know, I have two daughters, Michelle (his fiancée) has two daughters, all educated in the public system, and we paid full freight to get them educated. But they get turned out in a world where they will make 21 percent less than a male does. And I will tell any father and mother out there that raised daughters, you know, we shouldn’t accept this.

“It’s bearing down on women’s rights, and it’s bearing down on voter rights. It’s bearing down on the rights of LGBTQs to, you know, let’s treat everyone with dignity and respect. And even down to school board levels, where they’re trying to get into the rights of children and their parents to choose what they want to read, I don’t think the right to read a book should be mandated by anyone’s religious or personal beliefs.

“I think it’s rights in general that are being stepped on. And I think, as Democrats, we stand for rights and inclusion and equity and those things for all people. So, that’s where I think the difference will be between Ben Cline and I. He stands with the few, I stand with the majority,” Mitchell said.

What you get with Ken Mitchell is a 24-year military veteran with business experience who stands firm on women’s reproductive rights, broad-based civil rights, the protection of democracy and, bottom line, is focused on getting things done.

“As I’ve gotten out and talked with just the ordinary citizens as well as the committees, you know, they are ready for a change, and they have been,” Mitchell told me. “You know, they’ve tried to divide us, and they try to, you know, make us think that we have all of these issues. And I tell everyone, I bet you a dollar that we have far more in common than we do apart. You know, when we look at the true issues, and we shouldn’t get divided, we can always figure out how to legislate as long as we meet in the middle.”

That message isn’t going to get him notice from the Richmond and NoVA Democrats and political influencers.

I hope it gets him some financial support that can help him get his message out, because if more voters in the Sixth can hear from Ken Mitchell, he’s got a chance to do the impossible.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].