Cooter's race: Don't mess with the General Lee

Larry Sabato doesn't give Cooter a snowball's chance in hell of winning the heavily Republican 7th District's congressional race against GOP incumbent Eric Cantor.

Back in February, when Democrat Ben Jones, who portrayed Cooter in the popular TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, announced he was entering the race, prolific pundit Sabato told the Fredricksburg Free Lance-Star, "The 7th District? Get real. Mickey Mouse with an 'R' next to his name could win."

Now, less than a month from election day, a Hickman-Brown poll shows Jones at 44 percent, creeping up on Cantor's 48 percent.

What turned what was supposed to be a run-away into an allegedly photo-finish horse race?

Jones credits unlikely bedfellows: Doug Wilder, fellow Democrat and former Governor, and his opponent Cantor, both of whom have accused Jones of capitalizing on his Southern heritage.

Wilder sent a letter to Democratic leadership complaining that Jones was using a Confederate flag as a "campaign strategy." Jones has ridden in parades in the General Lee, his Dodge Charger from The Dukes of Hazzard with a Confederate battle flag painted on its roof.

Meanwhile, Cantor derided Jones' supporters for "making Southern heritage a major part of his campaign."

"I think they both went off half-cocked," says Jones. "The General Lee is one of the most beloved cars in America. It's like attacking Roy Rogers' horse, Trigger."

Jones says he's ridden in the General Lee in just a handful of the 300 events he's attended as a candidate.

Jones thinks Wilder and Cantor didn't do their homework and were not aware of his background as a civil rights activist in the '60s, when Jones was arrested at a sandwich shop sit-in. Jones, who served two terms as a congressman in Georgia, says, "Ninety-eight percent of the blacks in my district overwhelmingly elected me."

He says Wilder and Cantor "accused me of being a racist, and that's a very serious thing." Jones believes the accusations have backfired for Cantor especially the charges that Jones is focusing on too much of his Southern heritage.

"That's total baloney," says Jones. "He's trying to distract from his campaign being in trouble. Last time I looked out the window, we're in the South."

Jones seems delighted with the General Lee controversy, which has drawn attention to a campaign in which he claims Cantor is outspending him 10 to one.

Still, Sabato is dubious about Jones creeping up to 44 percent in the polls, calling it "literally unbelievable." Nor does he think the flag flap with Wilder could have generated a surge in the polls for Jones. "The news doesn't reach enough people, and they wouldn't care anyway," Sabato says.

Undeterred, Jones, ever the showman, cites the old adage, "I don't care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right. That's B-E-N..."