Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rush Limbaugh & Steve Largent Remember Virgil Cooper of Drumright

   Years after the Republican Revolution of 1994, Rush Limbaugh recounted the events that led up to the election which ended 40+ years of Democrat control of the House Of Representatives. He said the first signal of doom happened when a retired Democrat rural Oklahoma school teacher defeated the powerful incumbent liberal, Mike Synar, for the Democrat nomination.
   Cooper's primary & runoff campaign fund was less than $10K and he had no previous political experience or connections. It took place in the summer & fall of 1994, first placing in the primary, then an outright victory in a runoff.
Synar had failed to reflect the district's conservative values and over time, Synar had developed a dissonance to the complaints his representation had taken on.

   Steve Largent also entered politics that summer. The NFL Hall-Of-Famer also defeated 5 other experienced political leaders, winning an outright majority on primary night. The next day, Largent's team went to Washington to meet with Republican congressional leaders. Steve came back and told his Tulsa campaign team; 
   "I was trying to introduce myself but when they heard I was from Oklahoma, all they wanted to know was 'How did Synar lose?' and 'Who is Virgil Cooper?'" 
   Steve had been used to multitudes cheering him on in massive stadiums, so it took him aback when Washington was more enthralled with the prowess of a guy named Virgil Cooper of Drumright.

Wikipedia puts it this way:
   In 1994, Synar was narrowly defeated in a Democratic primary run-off election by Virgil Cooper, a retired high school principal. Though Cooper's campaign spent less than $20,000 itself, some money was spent by outside interests that were opposed to Synar, including the National Rifle Association, tobacco companies, and cattlemen. Cooper seized on Synar's connections with Japanese businesses with a bumper sticker slogan of "Sayonara Synar."
   Cooper won by just 2,609 votes out of 92,987 cast, a 51-49 margin. Cooper was subsequently defeated in the general election by Republican Tom Coburn by a 52-48 margin.
Oklahoma historian, Lee Wise put it this way:
   I remember Virgil Cooper. In 1994, Mike Synar was a Democratic Representative from Oklahoma. He was an eight-term incumbent
Virgil Cooper was a 71-year-old retired principal who ran against Synar in the Democratic primary. His total campaign expenditures (to my recollection) consisted of the cost of printing a couple of campaign signs which he attached to the sides of his pickup truck. His campaigning consisted of driving around town with his signs.
Virgil Cooper won. A complete unknown with a pickup truck defeated an eight-term incumbent.
Virgil Cooper went on to lose to Tom Coburn in the general election. The election was quite cordial and really a very happy evening in Oklahoma.

Memo to The One: never underestimate a man with a pickup truck! 
The Massachusetts Liberals:
Mike Synar receives honors from the Kennedy family
   The Sierra Club; a leftist political special interest for nature reserves; reported it this way;
   Oklahoma Rep. Mike Synar, D, one of Congress' leading advocates for federal grazing reform, lost a Democratic primary runoff Sept. 20 to a little-known retired school principal. Virgil Cooper defeated the eight-term congressman 52 percent to 48 percent. Ranchers cheered the defeat of the outspoken critic of "welfare cowboys' using public lands in the West, while environmentalists lamented the loss of a strong ally.
   "We're still stunned," says Sandra Rose, chair of Sierra Club's Oklahoma political committee. Rose says Synar, whose environmental voting record regularly landed him at the top of the League of Conservation Voters' list, may have fallen victim to a term limit initiative on the same ballot. "The people supporting term limits showed up in droves," she says. 
The Los Angeles Times reported it this way;

   Mr. Cooper May Go to Washington : Oklahoma: Former school principal, 71, defeated incumbent Rep. Mike Synar for the Democratic nomination. Victory surprised even his friends. 'We thought he was crazy' when he filed to run, one said.

   DRUMRIGHT, Okla. — Virgil Cooper's retirement was simple. He started each day with two pieces of toast and a cup of coffee, walked five miles, delivered meals to the elderly and hauled clothes to the Goodwill.And he always found time for the boys at Jo's Drive-In, a Main Street diner in the heart of Oklahoma's oil patch, where the talk started with football but almost always settled on politics.
   Cooper's dissatisfaction with government became personal. Three months ago, the 71-year-old former school principal stunned his coffee klatch by laying down $750 and filing as a Democratic candidate for Congress.
   "We thought he was crazy," said Howard Huff, an 81-year-old retired pharmacist in Drumright and one of the regulars at Jo's. "We thought he was just going to look into it."
Cooper did more than that. In one of the biggest upsets in Oklahoma political history, he defeated eight-term U.S. Rep. Mike Synar in the Sept. 20 runoff to win the Democratic nomination.
   He faces Tom Coburn, a Muskogee doctor, in the Nov. 8 general election. Democrats have held the 2nd District seat since 1922.
   While many congressmen are over 55, the American Assn. of Retired Persons is unaware of any first-time congressional candidates in their 70s.
   "It shows you can't stereotype people by age," said AARP spokesman Peter Ashkenas. "This demonstrates that whatever older Americans want to do, they can still do it."
   The upset rattled incumbents across the land, prompting White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers to remark that "this is a tough environment for incumbents."
Cooper, a World War II veteran, avid reader and community volunteer, was not as surprised.
"If you're surprised to win, you probably shouldn't be running in the first place," he said, showing a glimpse of his homespun philosophy that is fast making him a folk hero in Oklahoma's rural northeastern district.
   Educated at East Central University in Ada and the University of Tulsa, Cooper taught social studies and math for 34 years, the last 29 in Drumright, where he also coached basketball.
   He's been to Washington once, a few years back on a sightseeing trip with his wife, Ann, and he visited the offices of his Democratic representatives, Sen. David Boren and Synar.
   "Mike pointed into the office and said, 'Mr. Cooper, this is your office.' I decided to take him up on the offer," Cooper said with a chuckle.
The upset was largely the result of an anti-Synar climate brought on by a constituency that felt Synar had lost touch and was too liberal. In fact, Cooper introduced himself by saying, "I'm running against Mike Synar."
Perhaps anyone could have run against Synar and won, but only two other Democrats filed--Cooper and Bill Vardeman, a 71-year-old rancher from Ft. Gibson who missed getting into the runoff by 1% of the vote.
"I guess a lot of younger guys didn't want to get their heads beat off," Cooper said.  His candidacy led to a fascinating campaign.
   Cooper, with no political experience, tucked business cards under the windows of parked cars and drove an old pickup truck with a campaign sign on the back. Questioned about the validity of his campaign, state Democratic leaders often replied, "Virgil who?"
Synar ran television and radio ads claiming Cooper wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Cooper, who draws Social Security, waited nearly two weeks to deny the charges.
   When he saw Synar a few days before the runoff, Cooper told him, "You just keep lying about me and I'll keep telling the truth about you, and we'll see who gets elected."
   Cooper won with 51% of the vote, even carrying Muskogee County, Synar's hometown.
   Cooper admits his lack of campaign experience led to "political blunders," but they are harmless, engaging blunders at that.
   He said at a news conference that his political idol was Dwight D. Eisenhower. When reminded that Eisenhower was a Republican, Cooper replied, "In World War II, if you said anything bad about Ike, you were through."
   He promised he would not take any out-of-state campaign contributions, but sheepishly admitted he had gone back on his word.
   "My wife's brother in Texas asked if he could send money, so I accepted his $50," Cooper said.
   Is Mr. Cooper ready to go to Washington?
   "Yes, I'd go to Washington, but Drumright would still be my home," he said.
   The campaign trail is taking him away from his other chores, such as serving on the pulpit committee at the First Baptist Church, which is looking for a new pastor.
   He hasn't been able to mow his lawn because of the number of national media inquiries.
But Cooper has no regrets.
   "If I had still been working, I probably would not have run because I'd have been busy with other things," Cooper said. "A lot of people out there have a lot more zip and zing than I've got. I wasn't trying to be a role model for any old folks. I just thought there were a lot of things we ought to stand up for."
   Tom Coburn narrowly defeated Cooper in the November general election. They were both non-experienced in political action and they were both conservatives in many senses of the word. Tony Lauinger of Oklahomans For Life said that his organization's cause is furthered by both candidates. The district had been solidly Democrat since 1920. With a few more bits of Cooper luck, we may never have heard about what Tom Coburn might do for Washington politics.

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