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Paratrooper candidate

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Richard Ojeda, a former Army paratrooper and now a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in West Virginia, oftens hears crowds chanting this as he campaigns around his district:

“Oh-jed-ah! Oh-jed-ah!”

His district, by the by, voted in 2016 for Donald Trump by a 49-point margin.

In a season that has generated a lot of unusual candidates, Ojeda has to rank as one of the most distinctive. He is unmistakably an Army vet, a former paratrooper with a hard-core approach. A Politico article that is the best profile of him so far (better may yet come) calls him “JFK With Tattoos and a Bench Press”, and that’s not bad shorthand.

There’s nothing remotely weepy or whiny or sob-story about him. He was one of the prime pushers behind the remarkable West Virginia teachers strike – the tens of thousands of people involved in that seem to love him – and his message to them goes something like this: “You keep making that noise, ladies and gentlemen! This is what union is right here! Hey! Shoulder to shoulder! Don’t take a step back! Y’all deserve it!”

He has a number of things in common with many other Democrats – that’s clearly the party for him. Socially conservative in some ways, he is also pro-choice, pro-Dreamer and has backed a measure moving toward marijuana legalization.

But that’s far from the whole story.

Ojeda apparently gets along well enough with West Virginia’s one major remaining Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, b8ut they are nothing alike. Manchin has been described, fairly (and he wouldn’t want to argue) as maybe the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. Ojeda is quite different, openly and delightedly at war with – for example – the energy companies who run so much of the state. Here’s a quote from him about the coal industry: “We are on the next Saudi Arabia! They’ve said that — the energy people said that! So, if we’re on the next Saudi Arabia, obviously they want it to be just like Saudi Arabia, where you have about 10 people driving around in Lamborghinis and everybody else eatin’ sand sandwiches! That’s what they want. Guess what? No!”

Manchin may have personal loyalty built up over many years, and that may be enough to see him through to re-election this year. Or it may not. But his style of getting along with the powers that be is hardly energizing West Virginians, and Ojeda’s approach is.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, even in the heart of Trump country – in fact, especially in the heart of Trump country. Ojeda is talking revolt. That’s talking the language of a lot of people in an area like this.

People in places far from West Virginia, but sharing some of the points of view so widespread there, might be wise to pay attention.

 

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