Travels With Jasper: One Candidate's Constant Campaign Companion

Jordan Cooper might be the only political candidate in Maryland whose conversation with a potential voter has been interrupted by his campaign partner aggressively devouring the voter’s dog’s food.

 

Jasper, a massive 6-year-old golden retriever, goes canvassing with Cooper every day, knocking on doors and convincing voters why he should represent Bethesda-based District 16 in the House of Delegates. In the hour I spent with Cooper and Jasper the other day there were multiple occasions where Cooper had to convince Jasper to get up from his bed of grass and move on to the next house.

 

I asked Cooper if he was using his dog for votes and he said he just needs the exercise. Jasper seemed to have zero interest in Jordan’s political agenda and wanted to lay in the shade as often as possible.

 

The voters were a different story. At four different houses people recognized Cooper from four years ago when he knocked on their door campaigning for the same position, but finished fifth in the Democratic primary. He said he and Jasper knock on doors every day and always get recognized at least once.

 

 Jordan Cooper, a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in District 16, campaigns with his dog Jasper in Bethesda on a recent afternoon. Photo by Meghan Thompson 

During his campaign four years ago Cooper hit every house in the district eight times with either a phone call, a letter in the mail, or a knock at the door, which would explain why so many people already knew who he was. He grew up in District 16 and said he sometimes knocks on the doors of his former classmates’ parents.

 

Caleb Levine, the red-headed Bethesda man helping Cooper door-knock, is the candidate’s other campaign partner. They found each other when Cooper knocked on his door a month ago and Levine liked what he had to say.

 

“He said, ‘You’re great,’ and I said, ‘You’re great,’  and I said, ‘Can we be great together?’” Cooper recalled.

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A woman invited us into her home for a glass of water to discuss concerns with Cooper while Jasper relished the air conditioning and free food. I had to hold him back from finishing off a bowl of kibble that belonged to a dog the size of my foot while Cooper talked to the tiny dog’s owner.

 

The voter recognized Cooper immediately. She is an animal rights activist who works with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (I saw the pictures on the fridge that prove it) and invited Cooper to an event four years ago when he knocked on her door. He attended the event and hadn’t seen her since.

 

The woman asked Cooper what he was going to do about a development from Toll Brothers, a Pennsylvania company, to build 300 homes down the street in an area with extensive traffic and overcrowded schools. Voters brought up the development at almost every house. Cooper told the woman he has already been advocating against this construction for years and said he was told his input was appreciated but irrelevant because he is not a elected official.

 

“So now I am trying to become your elected official so they do have to listen,” he said.

 

At another house a woman answered the door and three small children toppled out with her. Infatuated with Jasper, they sat and listened while Cooper talked to their mom — who said she voted for him in the last election. She, too, asked him what he was going to do about the Toll Brothers construction.

 

One of her daughters, Hailey, clad in purple glasses and a dress with rainbow polka dots, took a pause from petting Jasper and expressed her own concern with the development project.

 

“We do not need any more people at Ashburton [Elementary School],” she declared, “we already have 27 people in my class.”

 

Cooper agreed and left the woman’s porch with the promise she’d vote for him again. He said he has knocked on over 12,000 doors and asks the same question every time: “Hi I’m Jordan Cooper and I want to represent you. Are there any issues you’d like to discuss?”

 

Despite his aggressive campaigning and presence in the community, Jordan finished fifth in the 2014 Democratic primary with only 2,900 votes. He attributes his loss in the last election to not enough money and his baby face.

 

“When people see me they presume I don’t have the kind of experience that I have,” Cooper explained. The 32-year-old candidate will be 33 on Election Day but admits he has a “youthful face.”

Cooper has a master’s degree in health policy from Johns Hopkins University, where he helped craft implementation procedures for the Affordable Care Act as health care policy adviser at the National Partnership for Women and Families. He’s been on multiple citizen boards and was the area coordinator for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. He has also run a podcast through which he has interviewed dozens of federal, state and local political leaders.

 

Cooper said he wrote in his admissions essay to Hopkins that he should be admitted so he could improve Maryland health care with the House of Delegates. He’s working to fulfill that promise.

 

But Cooper may still face an uphill battle in next month’s primary. Eight candidates, including incumbent Dels. Ariana B. Kelly and Marc Korman are competing in the Democratic contest. Sara Love, a former general counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice America and recent public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and Samir Paul, a teacher and union activist, are also attracting insider support.

 

In the time that Cooper spent knocking on doors and talking about his plans for the legislature, Jasper met at least six child admirers, snuck a few bites of food, found a ball in a bush that he claimed as his own and left Jordan a present to pick up from the grass.

 

“Here’s a little secret…don’t bring poop with you to greet voters,” Jordan said. Noted.

 

Cooper tells voters he is passionate about health care reform, school renovations in Montgomery County and stricter firearm regulations. He has endorsements from former Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, former Govs. Parris N. Glendening and Harry R. Hughes, and former Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg. Gansler is the only ex-official with local ties.

 

He will appear on the primary ballot for District 16 on June 26, his birthday. If he doesn’t win again this time, Bethesda residents can probably expect another knock in four years, with Jasper in tow.

 

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