Tareq Salahi wants your vote.
The former vintner, state winery board member and White House gate crasher kicked off his gubernatorial campaign with a Sept. 15 cookout at his home in Linden.
“I’m not about the red, I’m not about the blue, I’m about the red, white and blue, the people of Virginia,” Salahi said to a crowd of about 30 from the balcony of his back porch.
The cookout started Salahi’s campaign, called “Crash the Vote,” a sly nod to a 2009 incident in which he and his then-wife, Michaele Salahi, crashed a White House state dinner honoring India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Salahi, a Republican, positioned himself as a political centrist in contrast to his opponents in the Republican primary—one of whom, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, has filed suit against him for allegedly failing to provide refunds for canceled wine tours.
Salahi said he was campaigning on a platform of more jobs for Virginians, supporting the troops, and limiting the role of government in business. He hasn’t yet made up his mind whether to back Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge, he said.
Salahi blamed government regulation for the failure of Oasis Winery, in Hume. Salahi and his father, Dirgham Salahi, sued each other, alleging the mishandling of the vineyard’s money. The winery filed for bankruptcy in 2008, and its assets were sold at auction last year.
As governor, Salahi said he would push for more tax breaks and incentives to entice new job creators into the commonwealth.
When asked how he might accomplish that in a county like Fauquier, much of which lacks sewerage or business-grade Internet service, Salahi said, “When it comes to doing business, let’s do business to get business here.” He offered no further explanation.
At the cookout, Salahi burnished his credentials for the office of promoter-in-chief, pointing to his time on the state’s tourism and winery boards.
He’ll have to show his ability to govern in order to win, said Calvert Clark, one of Salahi’s neighbors.
“I think Tareq is going to have to get away from his media personality and let [people] know who he really is, and that’s what I think some of this is about,” Clark said. “Everyone thinks of him as a reality TV star, and they don’t take him as seriously as they should.”
A large sign by Salahi’s front door warned guests setting foot on his property that footage of them could be used in a television drama program “in perpetuity throughout the world.”
Documentarian John Campbell sent a half-dozen of his crew to film the cookout as fodder for a reality TV show, “In It To Win It,” documenting Salahi’s campaign from beginning to end. According to the plan, the show will air after the 2013 election, Salahi said.
Inside Salahi’s home, he set up a green screen for guests to photograph themselves with him, superimposed over images of the White House and the governor’s mansion in Richmond.
Grammy nominee Ski Johnson performed the national anthem before Salahi’s speech. Comedian Vic Christian warmed up the crowd with jokes about burning crosses.
“My GPS kept saying, ‘Turn around, turn around, I’ve got a bad feeling about this one, turn around!’” Christian said in his brief routine.
Donald Garrett, a George Mason University student in Fairfax and part of the young voter demographic Salahi hopes to capture, said he didn’t see a problem with the campaign as reality TV fodder.
“This is a non-traditional campaign, so I think it’s a great thing for people to kind of see politics not as usual,” Garrett said.
As far as Salahi is concerned, media saturation, legal trouble and backlash from the 2009 gate-crashing incident are assets to his campaign.
“My opponents can’t say this,” Salahi said. “They can’t say they’ve had a Secret Service investigation, an FBI investigation of their entire lives, including their marriage. They haven’t gone through the scrutiny I have. I’m an open book. I’m done.”
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