Seizing on star power, Democrats look to Nov. 5

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, VA. - If she had known actor Alec Baldwin and a gang of TV cameras were going to show up at her front door Tuesday, Sarah Robinson would have dressed.

"I wish I wasn't in my PJs," Robinson, 28, said, looking down at her sweat pants and fleece top.

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Baldwin was in town to stage some political theater for Democratic candidate Amanda Pohl, who is running for state Senate in this suburban Richmond district against Republican incumbent Amanda Chase. Rallying volunteers and knocking on doors to urge residents to vote, Baldwin made a swing through several parts of Virginia Tuesday on behalf of advocacy group People for the American Way.

It was the latest salvo in the celebrity onslaught Democrats are unleashing this year on Virginia voters. Amped up at the prospect of winning control of the General Assembly on Nov. 5, the party has turned to high-profile surrogates to help stir excitement and push voter turnout.

National groups are eager to sprinkle stardust on Virginia's normally sleepy off-off year races, when no federal or statewide offices are on the ballot to draw attention. Four states have elections this year but Virginia is the only one where control of the legislature is at stake, providing a tuneup for next year's presidential showdown.

All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election, and Republicans are defending slight majorities of 20-19 in the Senate and 51-48 in the House of Delegates, with one vacancy in each chamber.

Through a Brooklyn-based nonprofit called The Hometown Project, actors and musicians with ties to Virginia have been posting short videos on social media to tout candidates in places where they grew up. Singer Jason Mraz improvised tunes on guitar or piano for several Richmond-area Democrats, somehow setting melodies to lines such as, "and she is running for state Senate District 10, which includes parts of Chesterfield and Powhatan counties and Richmond."

Comedian Wanda Sykes included a shout-out to alma mater Hampton University in praising Hampton Roads-area candidates; TV actor Jason George reminisced about growing up in Virginia Beach in several spots for Democrats there; actor Patton Oswalt recorded testimonials not only for Senate candidate John Bell, but also for candidates for Loudoun County sheriff and school board.

Republicans are not star-struck.

"When you don't have accomplishments, or a message, or enthusiasm, you call in C-list celebrities. Which is why Republicans will not be asking for celebrity help," said Garren Shipley, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert.

Other than a Northern Virginia fundraiser with Vice President Mike Pence, the state GOP has brought in few outsiders this year. Republicans argue that they are focused on Virginia while Democrats are beholden to interest groups and big national money.

It's true that Democrats have hauled in more money from outside the state as they set records for fundraising this year. By the end of August, Democratic candidates had raised about 29 percent of their total contributions from out of state, including both individual donors and single-interest groups, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Republicans had raised only 12 percent from such sources, VPAP found.

But Democrats had also raised more money from within Virginia, and more from small donors, according to VPAP.

On Tuesday, Baldwin said there's a reason a New York-based film and TV star would come to Virginia to visit campaigns in Chesterfield, Fredericksburg and Fairfax Station: If Democrats take majorities in the legislature, he said, they would pass the Equal Rights Amendment - the 38th and final state needed for the measure to be ratified nationally.

"Which is something that I've always been fairly obsessed about," Baldwin said. "Here's our chance."

He said he had read up on the race between Pohl, a social worker, and the incumbent Chase, who styles herself as a swaggering iconoclast in the mold of President Donald Trump.

Before Baldwin's visit, Chase posted a message on Facebook listing his various brushes with authorities - from getting thrown off a commercial flight in 2011 to this year's legal dustup in a dispute over a parking space in New York.

"He embodies and represents everything [Pohl] claims that she's against," said Chase, who campaigned with a celebrity of her own - singer and Trump-supporter Joy Villa appeared at her recent fundraiser at the Country Club of Virginia.

Baldwin said he had read about Chase's own parking-related drama, in which she cursed at a Capitol Police officer who wouldn't let her into a restricted area.

"We have a roll of quarters we're going to give to Amanda Chase," Baldwin said. "When she loses this race, she'll have all the time she needs to drive around Richmond and look for a parking space."

After making a speech to about 70 campaign volunteers and media, Baldwin strode through the neighborhood, chatting with reporters and dropping in on two houses selected by the campaign. The occupants had not been warned, however - and at Robinson's house, her grandfather was napping and missed the whole thing.

Pohl said she wasn't worried about campaigning in a district that voted for Trump in 2016 with the man who famously parodies him on "Saturday Night Live" (and Baldwin said he'll make an appearance on this week's show).

"People are tired of the rhetoric they're hearing in D.C.," she said.

As he prepared to leave, Baldwin hopped into a black SUV and had it turn around just a bit farther down the street - right in front of Amanda Chase's house.

"I promise you we weren't trying to troll her," Pohl said.

Chase took note later on Facebook: "Sorry! Everyone on this street is Republican and they sure won't be supporting a socialist. By the way, at 3 p.m. we are all at work."


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