At the risk of jumping on a groaning media bandwagon, I feel the need to report a high profile political endorsement that touches on our bluegrass community.
Nathan Stanley, who had announced his endorsement some weeks ago of Donald Trump in the Republican Presidential primary, is now scheduling appearances with the candidate in Virginia. He will be with Trump on February 29 in Radford, VA, which is expected to be only the first of many joint appearances together.
In a press release this afternoon Nathan not only repeated his endorsement of Trump for President, but shared that his famous grandfather, Dr. Ralph Stanley, is standing in support of his actions. He says Dr. Ralph will not be endorsing anyone in this campaign, though he was a prominent Barack Obama endorser in 2008, but shares this quote from the good doctor:
“I am very proud of my grandson, Nathan. My wife and I support his endorsement for Donald Trump for President. Nathan has a very large impact on his fans. Our best wishes to Donald Trump.”
Here in Virginia, we have seen recurring use of bluegrass entertainers to support political candidates. But it took on a larger significance when current US Senator Mark Warner ran for Governor in 2001. Then local and regional favorites, The Bluegrass Brothers, were hired by the Warner campaign to initially record a campaign ad, set to the familiar tune of Dooley, and then tour the western part of the state with the candidate to perform it. These campaign appearances greatly enhanced the band’s profile, and they soon found themselves in demand at festivals and shows outside their home state.
This strategy was the brainchild of Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, who rose to national prominence for his urging of candidate Warner to not only not ignore rural communities in favor of the more populous parts of the state, but to reach out to them aggressively and show an embrace of their culture and ways.
At the time, it was common for Democratic candidates to speak loudly about the need for gun control in Virginia, a position popular in the dense urban areas on the coast and in Northern Virginia, but anathema to the citizens in the more rural western parts of the state. But Warner avoided this tactic in southwest Virginia, and used a different campaign theme, a la, “Warner won’t take our guns.”
Warner’s victory attracted the attention of political reporters and operatives across the country, and Saunders found himself playing a role in the victorious 2006 campaign for Senate of Jim Webb in Virginia, who recently dropped out of the Democratic campaign for President, and the 2008 campaign of John Edwards in the Democratic primaries for President. For the Edwards campaign, Mudcat brought Lonesome River Band into the act, and they blocked off large portions of their schedule to appear with Edwards at campaign stops across the South.
The strategy was quite successful in southern states, with large crowds turning out to hear the music, and the candidate on the stump. But when attention turned to northern and western states, the strategy was less effective. The band was soon dropped, and it wasn’t long before Edwards dropped out of the race.
Stanley says that he has only scheduled this one appearance with Trump at this point, but that discussions are ongoing about more. We shall see if it has any impact on Virginia’s primary on Super Tuesday, March 1.