Walking across the 13th district, part one

Published 9:33 am Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dan Barrett walked 100 miles across the district in his recent run for Congress.  The following is the first of a three part account by Dan about his experiences during the walk and campaign.

After I filed to run for Congress, I paused and wondered what I had gotten myself into.

You see, the new district I sought to represent included four counties for which I had no established base of support. There were 17 candidates for Congress, including five from Davie County, the smallest county in the district. Four well-known legislators were running, as were several other candidates who had high name recognition from prior campaigns.

How could I distinguish myself from my fellow competitors? What could I do to get to know the voters of the district and let them get to know me?

Bill O’Neil of Channel 12 brought it home to me in a television interview in early April. He asked pointedly, “How are you any different than anyone else running.”

I tried to explain to him my background and what we had accomplished as a team working together in Davie County. I told him how I wanted to take my work ethic and dedication to public service to serve citizens in Washington, but it was clear he was having none of it.

Apparently, he mirrored the feelings of voters of the district, because we were getting very little attention for our campaign.

Our first effort to distinguish my campaign was to develop a detailed set of policy principles, with a specific focus on economic growth and a plan to bring back good jobs. I consulted with expert economists in developing a plan, and we published those detailed plans on our campaign website. We tried to get the word out through social media and newspapers.

However, few people seemed to be paying any attention. With so many people running, newspapers and other media were unwilling to focus on any particular candidate. Bill O’Neil did acknowledge we were one of the few candidates with a specific plan for economic growth, but it was clear that having a good plan would not be enough.

When we went to candidate forums across the district, there were often 12 or more candidates, all vying for attention. With three minutes per candidate, all you could do was tell a little about yourself and what you hoped to accomplish. At one event in Davidson County, there were more candidates than those attending. The largest audience we had for the entire campaign was around 40 people. All the candidates were competing for the limited number of folks who attended Republican Party and conservative functions, while the vast group of citizens we needed to meet was not being reached.

It was my campaign manager, Nick Ruden, who first suggested I think about a walk across the district to meet the voters and for them to meet me.

My immediate reaction was “No way.” At age 57, I was too old to do that again.

Back in 2004, I had walked the state during a grassroots campaign for governor. That 582-mile walk was a life-changing experience and even though I did not win, it boosted my campaign.

However, I was a relatively young 45 back then. I had heart surgery to remove a tumor in 2006, and while I tried to stay in shape since, my walking was only about two miles on a good day. We had only a month or so left before early voting started, and it seemed like too much to even consider. How could I suddenly start walking 10 miles a day to complete the walk in the time we had remaining? I certainly did not want to start the walk and have my body give out.

However, as we continued to make no headway, the idea grew on me. I could try to do the walk and we could craft our campaign around it as a theme. It would give us a platform to explain how we would listen to voters and take what we learned to Washington to work for the people of the district.  Many people, myself included, felt Washington politicians were not listening to us, and the walk would demonstrate my commitment to fight for the people of our district.

As the plan evolved, we decided that I would try to walk 100 miles, from Mooresville to Greensboro.  Rather than having planned events, I would stop in and visit restaurants and other small businesses along the way. The walk would allow me to listen to voters and let them get to know me. Hopefully I could share with voters my ideas, including how we could help small businesses grow and create good jobs.   Nick would drive behind me and be available as needed. We would start at one point, walk as far as I could, then leave and come back to where I stopped the next day.

On the day before the walk was to start, we issued press releases to newspapers in the district. I visited the Davie Enterprise offices in Clemmons, and they took a picture of me lacing up my walking shoes.

As I left, I saw I had a message from my brother, Jim. He said it was urgent.  I knew right away it was bad; I just did not know how bad. When I called Jim, he told me our baby sister, Betsy, had died. She had died over the weekend, and no one knew why. I had to call our Mom and let her know. I left to be with her, and we then drove to Goldsboro where Betsy had lived.

The next six days were consumed with arranging Betsy’s funeral, being with family and all that goes into the passing of a loved one.  The campaign and the walk just did not seem to matter.

I was and remain so grateful for the outpouring of calls, letters and visits from friends. The many thoughts and prayers helped in ways we all understand, but cannot put into words.

My family told me Betsy would have wanted me to continue the walk. My heart was not in it, but I decided to see it through.

So I started the walk.

To be continued …