RICHMOND — Del. Sam Rasoul, a young Democrat from Roanoke, quit his post in the party leadership Friday over what he said was the inability of Virginia Democrats to turn away from the politics of fear and division.
“I feel as though the [leadership] right now is not committed to the radical changes we need to connect with the values of working class America,” said Rasoul, 35, the lone Muslim in the General Assembly. “We were sent a mandate on Election Day that we have to completely rethink the way we do business.”
It’s a minor party squabble - Rasoul isn’t stepping down from the House of Delegates seat he first won in 2014 - but the rift is an unusual window into the hand-wringing that grips a party after a tough election.
Virginia’s electorate has been sending mixed signals for the past few years, tilting Democratic for president and governor but leaving the state legislature firmly under Republican control.
And even though Virginia went for Hillary Clinton last week, Rasoul said he was troubled by the overall tone of the recent election. There is a deepening divide in Virginia between the blue-leaning voters of urban and suburban areas and the red voters of more rural areas that Rasoul said the party needs to bridge.
“Sure, we need to be super-strong in condemning acts of real hatred and bigotry and racism, but when people believe that all of Trump voters are racist, they really are not empathizing with the wants and needs of a lot of folks, and we are missing out,” he said.
Rasoul, a business strategy consultant, said he has no beef with the policies of his party.
“I love our platform, but when we want to use the same negative campaign tactics, when we do not try to genuinely listen and build trust with people from all walks of life, we’re not really being sincere about the values we espouse,” he said. “I think that’s why trust has eroded with time, and I think people have lost trust with both parties.”
Rasoul said he will offer some specific suggestions in coming days, such as a candidate training program “not on what issues you should run on but on how we should conduct ourselves.” Or maybe, he said, Democrats could pledge that “I’m never going to say anything about my adversary that they wouldn’t agree with if they were in the room.”
The House Democratic caucus is gathering in Richmond this weekend for its annual retreat. One party member who insisted on anonymity to discuss the squabble said that Rasoul has been trying for some time to get leaders to consider a rebranding effort during this year’s meetings.
When that failed, Rasoul quit as caucus treasurer to try to get some attention for his ideas, the party member said.
For Republicans, the open break was a delightful gift for the weekend.
“I think it shows how oblivious they are to the message that was sent by the voters on Election Day,” state Republican Party chairman John Whitbeck said. “If they don’t listen to people like Sam they’re going to have a miserable few years under President Trump.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the state Democratic party is meeting this weekend. It is the House Democratic caucus. This story has been updated.