Elizabeth Melson, an independent and Good Party certified candidate, competed last month against incumbent Republican candidate Bryce Reeves and Democratic challenger Jason Ford for a seat on the Virginia State Senate. The three candidates vied to represent District 28, which includes Culpeper, Warrenton, Bealeton, Orange, and part of Spotsylvania County in Virginia.
While Reeves ended up winning the election with 66.7% of the vote, Elizabeth Melson made an impact by challenging the status quo and offering Virginians an independent alternative. Good Party spoke with Melson about what she learned during her first time running an independent campaign and where she sees the future taking her political ambitions.
Melson described running for State Senate as an independent as an “enormous task.”
“I knew I was in a pretty unwinnable race,” Melson said. “It was more about talking about the things that the other candidates in the area aren't talking about or making any movement on. It was so much of a learning experience.”
Melson said that even when she first began announcing her independent candidacy, people told her to expect not to win the first time she ran for office. Still, Melson’s campaign grew over the course of election season, and her message resonated with voters.
“When you put a solution to how people are feeling, they're receptive. People understand that money is influencing politics somehow, but they may not understand exactly how and how we can fix that,” Melson said. “There could be people that are just like, ‘Politics is broken, they're corrupt, people are being bribed.’ Then if you explain how corporations play into this with campaign contributions — and that Virginia is actually rated one of the lowest states on transparency and integrity, and we have some of the loosest campaign finance laws in the country — and you explain that to people, then they start connecting the dots, and that message resonates.”
Melson also noticed the lack of voter engagement taking place, with many voters not knowing who was on the ballot going into election day.
“There are a lot of people that are caught up in day-to-day life, and they are just creatures of habit or they're conditioned to vote R or D. And how do we break through that? How do we reach enough people to win as independents or minor-party candidates? Maybe our people are the people that aren't even coming to the polls. Maybe they've totally checked out of the system. So how do we ferret them out?” Melson asked.
Throughout her campaign, Melson used different outreach strategies to connect with voters and get the word out about her candidacy.
For instance, Melson’s team conducted door-to-door canvassing, sent SMS text messages to voters, ran social media ads, and earned media coverage in local newspapers by writing compelling press releases. Melson also took advantage of Good Party’s AI Campaign Manager to create her campaign website’s content efficiently. Then, in the final weeks of the campaign, the Forward Party endorsed Melson’s candidacy, leading to an increase in volunteer support and boosting her canvassing efforts.
Following her defeat in the Nov. 7 election, Melson reached out to the winning candidate, Bryce Reeves, with an invitation to collaborate on legislation. She also connected with other independent candidates, offering encouragement and hoping to build a pathway for elevating one another’s voices moving forward.
Melson noted that there is still work to be done to encourage voters to align their voting behavior with their true feelings about the two-party system.
“The people that have rejected partisan politics should be the low hanging fruit [for independent candidates]. But I feel like that's not translating to when they actually go into the polls. There's a lot of people that are saying, ‘I'm sick of this, sick of the two-party system,’ but the needle isn't moving yet,” Melson said.
Melson plans to run for office again in the future, and hopes to leverage her political independence to speak to a broader spectrum of voters.
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