A Conversation With Anthony Woods

In the middle of summer on the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay, David is readying his slingshot, staring at the trio of Goliaths in his path.

Anthony Woods, still only in his late twenties, is a full generation younger than the three other leading candidates in the Democratic Primary to replace Ellen Tauscher, who left Congress officially last month in order to take a position in the Obama State Department.

He also has never held elective office, while his three main rivals have between them decades of experience in state and local politics.

Perhaps most important in a short campaign cycle: despite raising a very respectable $104,000 in his first quarter in elective politics, Woods is almost certain to have less money at his disposal in the critical final weeks of the campaign than his three rivals.

Woods believes, however, that what he lacks in legislative experience or traditional political trappings, he more than makes up for in empathetic life experiences, the kind of experience that might better connect with the voters of his district:

“I think it’s perspective…you know, I grew up without health insurance. I had to struggle to get a quality education. I fought twice in a war that I disagreed with. My mom is a small business owner who is struggling to make ends meet in this economy.”

Woods is also not certain that the depth of political experience found in his fellow Democratic challengers will prove to be a political asset, especially in the current political climate:

“I think folks are realizing that if we keep sending career politicians to DC, or to Sacramento, we are going to keep on getting the same broken results out of it.”

The reference to Sacramento, without question, was not accidental. The common thread connecting Woods’ three primary opponents is that all of them are currently in the midst of the political travails afflicting the California state government. John Garamendi, the most experienced of the three, is currently serving as the state’s Lieutenant Governor. Mark DeSaulnier, who comes into this contest with outgoing Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher’s endorsement, is a member of the state Senate. Joan Buchanan, who recently earned the endorsement of Emily’s List, is a state Assemblywoman who has self-funded her campaign to the tune of a quarter-million dollars.

Despite the fact (or, if you believe some Californians, because of the fact) that California finally passed a budget this past week, voter opinion of both Democrats and Republicans in the California State Capitol has taken a beating as of late. Woods alluded to this, as well:

“I have a great deal of respect for Garamendi, DeSaulnier, and Buchanan, but they’re spending their time in politics in Sacramento, and I don’t know that voters want the same things they’re getting in Sacramento in Washington DC.”

For a first-time candidate, Woods has drawn an unusually high level of media attention, including recent appearances on CNN and HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher.

Certainly, much of that is owed to Woods’ extraordinary biography, which the Daily Beast’s Benjamin Sarlin referred to as the best political resume ever. Woods was born into a military family, and was raised by a single mother. He is a graduate of The United States Military Academy at West Point and Harvard University. He did two tours in Iraq, for which he earned the Bronze Star. Despite his laudable military career, he was discharged from the military last year because he was no longer interested in concealing the fact that he was a gay man. As with so many servants in our armed forces, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” put the brakes on a promising military career.

On the subject of his military experience, Woods addressed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (which he projects will be history in short order). But it is telling that he was equally, if not more, willing to discuss what he sees as critical shortfalls in veteran’s care issues. He also thinks his experience in the Middle East could bring a unique perspective to the debate on the issue. Pointing out the relative paucity of Iraq War veterans in the halls of Congress, Woods noted that:

Clearly, (Iraq/Afghanistan) is one of the most expensive things we are dealing with as a country, and it is a very complicated matter of national security. We need more than three people (in Congress) who understand that situation firsthand.”

His unique biography has earned him some endorsements that political neophytes might have trouble garnering. He also has earned endorsements from VoteVets and The Human Rights Campaign/Victory Fund. Now, given that Woods is the only candidate in the field that is either gay or a veteran, their endorsements were not exactly shockers. An endorsement by a major organization, nevertheless, is a very real admission of campaign viability. These organizations, it must be said, do not endorse every candidate in every race who fulfills that baseline criteria of being among the group in question.

Like all candidates, perhaps, Woods senses that momentum and voter interest is on his side, pointing out a spirited town hall that he had held the night before in Fairfield, where health care, education, and jobs were at the top of the electorate’s list of issues of concern. He also pointed out that the grand opening of his headquarters earlier in the month led to thousands of voter contacts via phone banks and precinct walks. “We are blowing up on Facebook,” explained Woods, “We’re blowing up on ActBlue. And that’s the exciting thing. You try to harness that wave.”

If Woods is able to harness that wave, given the likelihood of a suppressed turnout in a late summer special election, he could add a very unconventional twist to what promised to be a conventional Democratic primary.

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