For the 34 years she served as an analyst with the Defense Department, Gail Crook felt she was making a contribution. Now that she has retired from the federal government, she said, she would like to continue contributing in some manner.
Crook will seek to become U.S. Senator from Virginia, trying to unseat incumbent Sen. John Warner, who has served for the past 24 years.
"A lot of my experience is at the national level and that’s why I chose the national level," she said of her campaign.
Crook, a registered Democrat since the age of 19, sought the Democratic Party’s nomination at the state Democratic party’s Central Committee meeting June 1 in Richmond. Of the 250 Central Committee members, 30 to 35 supported her candidacy, she said, not enough to get her name on the Democratic ticket. As a result, the Democratic Party of Virginia will not be fielding a candidate to oppose Sen. Warner.
After being turned down by her party, Crook tried running as an independent but could not get the necessary number of signatures before the June 15 filing deadline to get on the ballot. She has no choice now but to run as a write-in candidate.
Crook attributed her low level of support among the Democratic Party to Gov. Mark Warner’s (D) unofficial endorsement of the Republican incumbent.
On May 28, Mark Warner said: "I think Sen. Warner represents well Virginia and fights very, very hard on a number of critical issues. No one has stepped forward that I believe is going to mount a credible campaign."
<b>AT FIRST,</b> Crook said she wanted only to volunteer for a democratic challenger to Sen. Warner. It was only after she realized that none was going to come forward that she threw her hat in the ring. Because of restrictions placed on federal employees, Crook could not get heavily involved in partisan politics during her years with the Department of Defense. But she was still able to volunteer for 12 years as an election official in her hometown of Alexandria.
"I have a strong belief in the two-party system," she said. Even though John Warner is very popular in Virginia, voters need an alternative she added.
"Right now [Warner]'s resting on his laurels from his early years," she said. "He's not doing enough to balance the budget. He's not doing enough for education. The public school system is in a crisis right now."
Crook suggested standardizing teacher salaries nationwide, essentially making them federal employees. After a few years, they would become state employees again, but their salaries would remain the same. She also suggested placing line items in the federal budget for public school construction.
On another issue of concern to Northern Virginia Crook called herself a advocate of mass transit and vowed to work for more federal funding for transit projects.
Health care is also an important issue for her. "We need some sort of universal health program," she said. "Right now, if [seniors] run out of money and they have a real serious illness, it's like sentencing them to death," she said.
But her biggest contribution, she said, would be in helping to bring fiscal responsibility to Washington.
<b>THE DEMOCRATIC</b> Party's failure to field a candidate is a sign of the party's weakness, said Scott Keeter, outgoing chair of the public and international affairs department at George Mason University.
"I don't think it's very good that the public doesn't have a choice," he said. "The state is fairly evenly divided. It isn't like everybody thinks the same way in Virginia"
"Not having a choice in this election is not helpful to the quality of our democracy," he added.
<b>"SEN. WARNER</b> does remain a very well-respected and popular incumbent," said Mary Broz of the Virginia Democratic Committee. She added that his position in the Senate Armed Services Committee made him even more popular now with many U.S. troops deployed overseas.
The steering committee's decision not to field a candidate was a recognition of "electoral realities," Broz said.
"At the end of the day, no viable candidate had come forward," she said.
Crook is not a viable candidate because of her lack of funds, Broz said.
"When we look at defining a viable candidate, I can't not bring up money," she said.
<b>VIRGINIA DEMOCRATS</b> are storing up their resources for next year's General Assembly elections with the goal of taking the legislature back from the Republicans, Broz said. The party simply could not afford to field a candidate against John Warner.
"Looking at it on the face of it you think, 'well, that's a pathetic excuse for a party.' But it's not that simple," she said, noting that Senate races are notoriously expensive.
Broz said the Democrats' failure to field an opponent to Sen. Warner is not "a reflection on the health of our democracy."
But Ken Hutcheson, Sen. Warner's reelection campaign manager said that the lack of challengers is a reflection of the senator's popularity.
"If Senator Warner hadn't been doing his job then there would be people coming out of the woodwork to oppose him," he said. "The system is working."
Crook said that her lack of funds — she has raised less than $15,000 — should not disqualify her from appearing on the ballot.
"The barriers that are being placed now to running for office would have a tendency to limit our democracy," she said.
"If you look at the qualifications for office, they're very low. Candidates have to be U.S. citizens and 30 years of age. They don't have to be lawyers, they're not required to have a college education, they don't have to be rich, they don't have to have children, they don't have to be white."