It’s been almost 30 years since “Dukes of Hazzard” went off the air, but one of the show’s regulars, Ben Jones, a.k.a. “Cooter,” was suddenly fielding calls and questions on Wednesday about his role in the unexpected loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
On Wednesday, Cantor’s pollster blamed Cantor’s defeat in an open primary to college professor Dave Brat in part to crossover Democratic votes, and the pollster even cited a letter Jones wrote urging non-Republicans to cast their votes for Brat.
“As I always say, there ain’t no kind of freud like schadenfreude,” Jones said by phone from his home in Washington, Va.
After “Dukes” went off the air, Jones, a Democrat, was elected and served in Congress in Georgia from 1989 to 1993. After he moved to Virginia, he ran against Cantor in 2002 but lost, but it left Jones with hard feelings for his opponent. He said that Cantor ran a “truly dishonorable campaign” that questioned Jones’ patriotism.
Flash forward to 2014. Jones said a friend, director Ron Maxwell, alerted him to Cantor’s primary challenger, Brat, who ran to Cantor’s right. Even so, Jones seized on the chance to weigh in on the race when he penned an open letter in the Huffington Post urging Democrats, independents and libertarians to vote for Brat.
“It may be the only way to empower those who want to make a statement about the dysfunctional Congress and ‘politics as usual,'” Jones wrote. The letter went viral.
In the letter, Jones wrote that from “what I know of Dave Brat, he is a good, honest, and honorable man.” He said that he has met him once, briefly, at an event at Randolph-Macon College, where Brat is a professor.
He said that he originally thought that the letter may have enough of a media splash “to make old Cantor sweat,” but he was surprised that Cantor lost so handily. When he got an email telling him so on Tuesday, Jones said he at first thought it was a joke.
Jones said that he’s unsure what impact his letter really had, as pundits scrambled to weigh in on what caused Cantor’s surprise defeat and the extent to which Democrats served as spoilers.
“I don’t know and I don’t care who takes the credit, but if no one knows who gets the credit, I will gladly take some of it,” Jones said.
“I am happy to have done it. I am happy to have been of service,” he added.
Jones had a role in challenging another Republican leader, Newt Gingrich, when he ran against him for a Georgia congressional seat in 1994. Although he was soundly defeated, Jones did file an ethics complaint against the soon-to-be House Speaker, which were followed by allegations that dogged Gingrich until his resignation in 1998.
Jones, 72, said that he wouldn’t run for office again — he’s “too damn independent.” He does appear at political fundraisers and charity events, and says that he’d support former Virginia Senator James Webb, a Democrat, if he runs for president. He also is fighting plans for a big development project in his hometown, where there are no stoplights and no fast-food places.
But much of his time is still spent performing — acting, writing and music. This weekend, he’ll be at a rockabilly event at Cooter’s Place in Nashville, with Catherine Bach, his co-star on “Dukes,” among the guests.
“I always says there is not much difference between entertainment and politics,” he said. “And believe me, there are some really good actors out there.”