After 39 in a row, something gets to be a tradition, and Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott's annual Labor Day Celebration at the family home on Shore Drive is definitely a tradition for politicians — Democratic politicians to be sure — from across Virginia.
"Just the crowd of elected officials is bigger than a lot of Labor Day parties," Sen Tim Kaine said, after more than 50 current and former members of the General Assembly and local governments from as far away as Northern Virginia and Danville introduced themselves.
Even so, the politicos were outnumbered. More than 1,000 people filled the backyard with its view of Hampton Roads and the distant cranes of Norfolk International Terminals.
Kaine's been coming for the past 15 years, but it was only after his wife, Anne Holton, left her position as a juvenile court judge that she's been able to come along — state law bars judges from attending political events, he told the crowd.
"See," he said, turning toward his wife. "They really are fun."
The celebration kicks off the campaign season in Virginia — and does every year, since, as Newport News vice mayor Rob Coleman said, "every year is an election year in Virginia."
Scott's party is a celebration of the work put in on those campaigns by people like retired Air Force Col. Dave Belote, who is challenging Del. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, for an open state Senate seat in Virginia Beach.
When Belote retired and moved back to his hometown, the federal law that bars federal workers from politicking no longer applied, and he began volunteering — knocking on doors — for Ralph Northam, now the lieutenant governor. He worked on Gov. Terry McAuliffe's campaign in 2013 — still knocking on doors — and for Suzanne Patrick in her unsuccessful challenge to Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, last year.
"I was going to volunteer this year, but then (state) Sen. Dave Marsden said, 'You've been knocking on doors for other people, would you consider doing it yourself?'" Belote said.
Then, laughing: "I like door-knocking."
A big part of his motivation was his son, Drew, who has autism — and got a great start on adult life with the life- and job-skills programs he got in Prince William County Schools, when Belote was stationed at the Pentagon.
Belote thinks it's important to make a case for such issues as expanded Pre-K and all-day kindergarten and Medicaid coverage, even though he knows it won't be an easy race in the Republican-leaning district.
"It's a way of showing support," said Teddy Hicks, who has only missed two of the 39 celebrations, and who remembers that it was Scott's father who was the doctor who operated on him when he had appendicitis in high school. Scott still remembers one opponent who tried to campaign on a line that the only thing he was known for was the Labor Day event.
"That's because whenever they tried talking to people here, they'd say, 'I can't vote for you, I go to Bobby's party and promised him,'" he joked as the crowd started streaming in.
While there are plenty of serious issues hanging —— from the revision of the No Child Left Behind law and the bipartisan push for a new federal crime bill that are Scott's Capitol Hill priorities, to the unresolved question of redrawing the lines for the sprawling Norfolk-to-Richmond district he represents, the light-hearted side of politics was still there when it came time to rally the troops.
"We can take the (state) Senate and win seats in the House if we do what we know how to do in 2015," Scott said. "And then on in '16, wherever my district will be."
Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.