Claire Russo

Claire Russo

The following is a transcript of a phone interview conducted on June 19 by Rachel Needham of Rappahannock News with Democratic primary candidate Claire Russo, who is running in the Fifth Congressional district. Some questions have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Polling for the Virginia Democratic Primary election will be held next Tuesday, June 23, to choose a candidate to challenge Republican candidate Bob Good for the Fifth Congressional District seat, which includes Rappahannock County. 

How has the pandemic affected your campaign?

It’s been a challenge to overcome, but to be perfectly honest it’s really [about] the way it’s impacted the families and the people in this district, putting people in really difficult situations. So I think it’s made me more focused on the inequities in our system and the way we recover.

How are you feeling about the primary? Are you feeling confident? Are you busy? Tell me what’s coming up.

I am feeling great about the primary. We’re feeling really strong. We have a great grassroots organization motivating me. And yes, we are very busy. We want to leave everything on the field.

Are you feeling better or worse knowing that Bob Good is the Republican nominee?

It’s a lot of pressure. I think every American should be concerned that there is no place in the Republican party for someone not pushing an extreme agenda like Bob Good is. I think it makes the stakes even higher for Tuesday’s election, and it demonstrates we need a fighter to take on Bob Good and go toe to toe with him.

You’ve probably come out the strongest of any of the Democratic candidates against Bob Good. Can you explain why?

Bob Good poses a threat to me as a woman. And really, it’s personal in a lot of ways. My family knows what happens when someone like Bob Good gets into power. My grandmother died getting an illegal abortion and my father was orphaned at nine years old because of it. People like Bob Good pose a threat to human life and to every American. So I think it’s important that everyone knows just how high the stakes are on Tuesday. 

How are you appealing to Republicans in the district who may be more moderate than Bob Good?

This is about having the credibility to talk about the issues that matter to every person in this district regardless of their political affiliation. It’s about having a foundation of trust in my service background having been in the Marine Corps, in the army, having been deployed into two war zones, my husband is still in active duty. That foundation of trust enables me to reach across the aisle. In the Marine Corps, it didn’t matter what the political affiliations of the Marine to my left and to my right were. It was about getting a job done.

What is your main priority for the Fifth District?

Affordable, accessible and equitable health care is a priority for every single person in this district regardless of their political affiliation and regardless of their location. So that is absolutely the priority here.

To that point, can you explain your rural health care plan?

Tim Kaine’s Medicare X plan is a great solution. It’s specifically designed to address some of the rural health care needs because so many of our insurance markets where there’s only one insurer on the market are in rural counties just like the ones on the southside of the district. There’s also the delivery of health care issue, so there’s the health care plan and then there’s the larger picture of addressing health care in this country.

A big topic of conversation here is broadband. How would you address that?

Number one, the federal government sort of lowered the standard for broadband so the internet being provided under the guise of broadband is actually lower, which means we’re still going to have to go back and beef up those networks. We need to raise the standard on a federal level and then use federal grants to incentivize and direct the expansion of broadband. The equality of access to information is so critical.

Nationally we’re spending a lot of time talking about police reform and when I spoke with RD Huffstetler he mentioned the Marine Corps and its continuum of force and he mentioned that may be a helpful tool in policing. Do you agree with him? Do you think military techniques are helpful to police?

When I was in Afghanistan leading teams of women, we were trying to build trust. And for me that meant taking off our helmets and putting on headscarves, it meant taking off our body armor and meeting them on their terms.

I remember an older Afghan man saying to me, ‘You guys say you are here to provide security and you want us to trust you, but you’re wearing body armor and a helmet and you’ve got a huge gun. I’m wearing flip flops walking up this hill with you with no protection. It’s hard for me to believe you know what security means to me.’

It is really critical that our police forces are operating from a place of trust rather than a place of fear. Police forces need to be focused on neighborhoods and what defines security where they’re working. I think demilitarization of our police is important. It’s [important to work on] ultimately demonstrating when you’re there to protect and serve that you are in fact someone who people can trust.

How will you balance standing for your values and compromising across the aisle?

You have to be focused on the end goal, on the mission.I think at the end of the day, this is about having the credibility to sit down and have tough conversations with folks . . . and lifting up the voices of the people in this district and making them heard. And that’s every single voter, not just the people who vote for me, it’s even the people who vote against me. I will make it my mission to make sure their voices are heard as well. 

Voting rights has been a hot topic in recent weeks because people are wary of going to the polls during the pandemic. What is your take on that?

I think we can see that there is a path to a less restrictive process and to encouraging Americans to vote rather than discouraging Americans from voting. And the other part of this equation from a federal perspective is we have to look at election security. Really, it is the job of the US Congress to ensure that every single person’s vote counts and that our elections process is secure.

In the event that you don’t win on Tuesday, will you support the nominee?

Absolutely. I am honored to be a part of this field of candidates and I will work very hard with whoever wins to defeat Bob Good and to put a representative who is willing to fight for the Fifth in this seat.

The Democratic primary will be held on June 23.

Staff reporter Rachel Needham is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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