On a crisp, sunny October morning, a stretch of Midlothian Turnpike in the Village of Midlothian is roped off for the annual Midlothian Village Day parade. Dance troupes, Cub Scout packs and even a local trash-removal company march and wave and toss candy to the kids, who stand waiting with Halloween bags to gather up the goodies.
And then comes the chicken.
It's tall and bright yellow, but sort of sickly looking, with bright-red gloves that look like a metaphor for blood on one's hands. Ick. Who brought the chicken? I wonder. And then he passes by and on his back is a sign reading: "Chicken Cantor. Won't Debate."
Ah, that chicken. It's the work of Democratic candidate Rick Waugh, who opposed the formidable Rep. Eric Cantor for the 7th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Waugh's chicken continually pecked away at Cantor's refusal to debate him and Independent Tea Party candidate Floyd Bayne.
Like the rest of the people lining Midlothian Turnpike that morning, I didn't actually know the outcome of the upcoming election, though the only thing that could make me more sure would be a souped-up DeLorean with a flux capacitor. There was no doubt in my mind, nor in anyone else's, that Cantor would sail to victory and become the next majority leader of the House of Representatives.
That's pretty heady stuff for anyone, but perhaps especially for Cantor, a guy whose heart and desire for national politics was questioned 10 years ago during his first run at the House. I remember it very clearly because I was one of the people writing about those behind-the-scenes murmurs.
Back in 2000, as Cantor was running for Tom Bliley's seat in the House, I wrote a long profile of him for Style Weekly. I spent a good deal of time interviewing him at his family's office, his House of Delegates office and at home with his wife, Diana.
My piece was, as I recall, mostly very positive. I remember that I called him "comic-strip handsome," for it seemed to me his chin was more than chiseled, it was forged, and that his aforementioned shiny hair was so black that in a comic strip it would be colored midnight blue and sport one of those little white highlight squares.
But my article wasn't all glowing. There were factions in the party with doubts about Cantor. They wondered whether he really wanted to run or was instead hand-picked as the next puppet in the Virginia GOP machine?
He certainly didn't seem like a guy with fire in his belly 10 years ago. His slow drawl almost suggested reticence; he stuck to the party line and seemed to light up only when talking about his wife and kids. I sincerely liked him. He was a warm, decent guy who seemed like he had no business being in national politics.
But if Eric Cantor was having second thoughts as he was embarking on a congressional career, his ship had already sailed. Cantor went on to crush his opponent by nearly 100,000 votes and become the Republican whip. He has just released a book co-written with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called — wait for it — Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders .
As I look down Midlothian Turnpike, I begin to see giant Cantor for Congress signs, a swarm of volunteers headed my way and finally, the man himself. For a split second, I wonder, Did I have anything to do with this?
And as he walks down the parade route, he seems wholly comfortable with both the admiration and the disdain he engenders. I momentarily contemplate stopping him to say hello, but his eyes are looking ahead as he does the politician's two-at-a-time handshake through the crowd.
If Eric Cantor started out lacking the stomach or the heart for the dizzying heights of national politics, he has certainly gained it along the way. The transformation is complete.
And if I, in some minuscule way, had anything to do with Cantor's rise to power, I'd like to say, "You're welcome."
And I'm sorry.