Potential contributors understood the challenges of the Republican-drawn district and were being pressured to support Democrats in competitive U.S. Senate elections. At the beginning of October, the campaign decided to use some of its precious resources to pay for a poll. Cook didn’t have money to hire a traditional pollster to pay for a thorough survey, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Instead, the candidate paid $3,000 to Public Policy Polling to conduct a shorter survey, conducted with interactive voice response technology instead of live callers. The plan was to demonstrate viability in order to encourage outside Democratic groups to get involved or, at a minimum, raise enough money for one final cable television ad buy.
Unsurprisingly, the results weren’t spectacular. Despite months of campaigning, Cook still suffered from a significant name identification gap and so the campaign released partial and selective results in a fundraising email.
“[I]f we just amplify my message, we’re looking at a race that’s too close to call: Wittman 46% and Cook 43%, with many still undecided,” Adam explained in a subsequent fundraising email.
The initial ballot certainly was much worse, but releasing those numbers would likely have sucked all of the air out of the race. In the end, it may not have mattered. According to Cook, an average fundraising email yielded between $700 and $1,000. The email with the polling numbers brought in about $2,500 and the effort lost money compared to the cost of the survey.
Overall, money wasn’t likely the defining factor of the race. Wittman outspent Cook $765,000 to $180,000, but in 2010, Democratic nominee Krystal Ball outspent the congressman $1 million to $972,000 and still came up short.
In the end, Cook lost 56 percent to 41 percent, about six points better than Ball’s 35 percent showing in 2010 and about 5 points less than Obama and Kaine did in the district in 2012.
The Next Step
After the election, Cook’s next step was not immediately evident, since all losing candidates in the 1st District of Virginia are apparently not guaranteed a job co-hosting a national cable television show. Cook will probably run for something again someday, but it would need to “fit into the rest of my life,” he explained.
Cook and his wife Melody simply can’t afford another campaign right now. For the last race, he left his job as general counsel at the Social Security Administration and the couple lived off of Melody’s salary and burned through most of the $25,000 they saved up while Adam served in Afghanistan before he became a candidate.
“I was campaigning full-time, but I think the real sacrifice was made by Melody,” Adam said.
His wife worked full-time, was the campaign’s graphic designer, and spent every weekend knocking on doors and being a surrogate at events. She even made fundraising calls—“the single most painful part of campaigning.”
“She was a rock star,” Cook said. “I very literally couldn’t have done any of it without her.”
Along with family considerations, Cook is also considering whether any Democrat can win Virginia’s 1st District.
“It’s so hard to separate yourself from what’s going on nationally,” he explained.
But that would be required to win a Republican leaning seat along with what Cook called “a perfect storm,” at least until long-term demographic changes in western Prince William County make the district more diverse and potentially more competitive.
For now, Cook still has the political bug. He put his campaign email list to use to solicit support for fellow Democrat Mark Herring who is running for attorney general this year and will likely look for the opportunities to help others. Next time, maybe more people will do the same for him.
Nathan Gonzales is Deputy Editor of the Rothenberg Political Report and Founder of PoliticsinStereo.com