James Woods, Atheist Congressional Candidate, Has Conceded His Race November 4, 2014

James Woods, Atheist Congressional Candidate, Has Conceded His Race

James Woods, the progressive, legally blind, condom-sending, proud atheist running for U.S. House from the 5th Congressional District of Arizona, has conceded the race.

Republican Matt Salmon will retain his seat. Salmon opposes federal funding of abortions, gay marriage, and gay adoption (despite his own son being gay). He also voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Woods was the only openly atheist candidate in this year’s Congressional elections.

While his atheism was never the subject of political football, his progressive values didn’t help him in a very red state and we knew this was always going to be an uphill battle. Indeed, that’s been the case tonight:

In his concession speech, an advance copy of which was sent to me, Woods emphasized how this loss was still a victory in so many ways:

I didn’t win a Congressional seat tonight, and I know that’s disappointing to so many of us who have been doing the slow and often thankless work of trying to get some progressive representation in Arizona’s conservative districts. But despite our disappointment, this campaign did not lose, and this is only the beginning of the important work we started together.

When I announced my congressional campaign from a hospital bed after receiving a kidney transplant last February, one of the first things I told my team was that we couldn’t lose — because our goals were bigger than one congressional seat.

Our campaign was about giving a voice to politically marginalized people in Arizona and across the country. And we did that. We won the opportunity to steer political conversations toward the urgency of progressive values. Humanist values. Feminist values. REAL family values. The values of science, innovation and critical thinking. And people listened.

We did not shy away from listening to the needs of politically vulnerable groups of people. We advocated for atheists. We spoke up in support of the transgender community. We publicly insisted that community members who lack the protection of documented status deserve person-first immigration reform. We raised awareness around disability issues and the barriers to political engagement. We called for humane end-of-life options and death with dignity. We stood in solidarity with women and called for freedom in all health care decisions — including the decision to have an abortion. We talked straightforwardly about policies that are proven to reduce gun violence. We invented the campaign condom. And we ran a campaign I think my atheist community can be proud of—and I hope we made it a little easier for other candidates to be open about their nontheism in the future as well.

We’re playing to win the long game. And we’re winning it.

Most of you have heard at least some of my story and know that about 9 years ago, I lost my sight because I didn’t have access to health coverage. I also suffered amputations and organ failure. I even spent time in hospice. I would not have survived without government empowerment programs like AHCCS and SNAP.

So while I didn’t win a congressional seat, I did win an opportunity to confront Republicans with the reality that cutting government empowerment programs means leaving people like me to die. We won a platform from which to talk about the urgency of progressive policy, and the need for all of us to invest in one another through the tool of progressive government so we can all succeed together.

I won an opportunity to thank you — the tax payers — for investing in me through your tax contributions to programs like Medicaid, Social Security Disability and Nutrition Assistance. You saved my life. And every day, we’re sharing life, liberty and opportunity with millions of vulnerable Americans because we vote “yes” for progressive policy, and we vote “yes” for progressive candidates, and we pay our taxes proudly.

We are going to have some incredible gains tonight, and we’ll have some losses as well. But the Democratic Party has room to bring people in from the margins, and every time we do that, we grow our voter base, we improve the quality of our democracy and we stand firm on the moral high ground.

Regardless of which seats we win or lose, if we stand together, if we stand with the most vulnerable among us, and if we continue a message rooted in equality, reason and compassion, we will win the best possible country for everyone — no exceptions.

I just got off the phone with Woods and he told me he plans to stay active in politics, though he’s unsure if he’ll run for office again in the future.

He told me:

“It was an amazing experience. I got to meet interesting people, I learned a lot. I’m pretty introverted, so it was a good experience getting out of my comfort zone.”

His biggest frustration revolved around money and how much of a limitation that put on his grassroots campaign.

I asked if he had any advice for atheists who may run for office in the future:

“If you’re honest about who you are and you’re not openly antagonistic, I don’t think it’s that’s big of a problem.”

Woods added that, during his concession phone call, Rep. Matt Salmon asked to meet with him to discuss outreach to the disability community.

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