Politics Like Gentlemen

Last weekend I ran the Republican Marathon! Well, only metaphorically. The two days at the Virginia Republican Convention in Richmond were both physically and emotionally exhausting.

I met scores of people, many of them politicians or would-be politicians. Some impressed me, others did not. Among the real politicians, however, two men stood apart: Mark Obenshain and Robert Bell.

What made these men stand apart was not their accomplishments—which are many—and not even their political positions. That’s not the point. What impressed me, and likely the majority of the delegates at the convention, was how these men ran their races, races that were against each other. Both men wanted the nomination for Attorney General—only one would win.

In the emails, flyers, and speeches leading up to the convention, I heard not a squeak of contempt for the other candidate. Each stated his accomplishments and political positions, and then ran the race as if there were no competitor other than himself.

When the ballots were cast and tallied, and Mr. Obenshain won what seemed a close race, Mr. Bell asked for a suspension of the rules to nominate his rival by acclamation.  Bell could have let the tally come in to show how close they were, but he didn’t. Instead, he cheered Obenshain’s victory, even as he choked down his own regrets. Obenshain for his part spent a good portion of his acceptance speech praising Bell and calling him a “worthy competitor.” As a friend observed to me, Bell left the Richmond arena “smelling like roses.” Not everyone could say so much of themselves.

As I left the Coliseum, 13 hours after arriving and smelling like a locker room, Bell shook hands, humble enough to thank his supporters and not hide after defeat. He and Obenshain had done something seldom seen in politics these days. They ran races like gentlemen. And in victory for one and defeat for another, they each showed themselves to remain that, gentlemen.

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