With her air-dried locks, rumpled scarves and heavy-duty boots, Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a first-time candidate for Congress in Virginia, looks every bit the part of the hobbyist rancher.
Watching her on the campaign trail — hosting fish fries, riding parade floats and talking tariffs with her district’s fellow cattle farmers — you’d never know she once traveled the world as a glamorous, pioneering war correspondent.
“I fought long and hard for the privilege of being shot at,” she quipped about when she was the first female foreign correspondent for a major network in the late ’70s.
You’d never know she once interviewed Moammar Khadafy for “NBC Nightly News”, profiled Pablo Escobar for Vanity Fair and palled around with Mick Jagger.
And you’d certainly never know that her daughter is movie star Olivia Wilde, an activist actor who regularly tweets out her mom’s events and progress.
You’d never know it because Cockburn — maybe the most interesting woman in the upcoming midterms’ wave of hundreds of female first-time office seekers — would much rather talk about her herd of pasture-fed Red Devons.
“We have no stoplight,” the candidate boasts proudly these days of her little town of Rappahannock, Va., where she and her editor husband own a 400-acre cattle and organic hay farm. “And more cows than people.”
But despite her humble, aw-shucks way, she knows how to get attention. She bizarrely coined the phrase “Bigfoot erotica” and injected it into the political conversation last month.
Here’s what happened: Republican rival Denver Riggleman had posted two drawings of Bigfoot to his Instagram account, both with the cryptid’s genitalia blacked out.
“On the Instagram posts, you could see it was a joke,” Riggleman told The Post, adding that his friends were goofing on him for taking an interest in the myth.
Riggleman did author two books about Bigfoot: the self-published “Bigfoot Exterminators Inc.: The Partially Cautionary, Mostly True Tale of Monster Hunt 2006” and the unpublished “The Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him.” He called the second book a “parody.”
But he says Cockburn twisted the joke and ran with it.
“This is not what we need on Capitol Hill,” Cockburn scolded in a tweet, proclaiming Riggleman a “devotee of Bigfoot erotica!”
“There’s no way anyone is dumb enough to think this is anything but a joke,” he told The Post.
Cockburn has also accused Riggleman of consorting with a known white supremacist — young, now-reformed alt-righter Isaac Smith, who once showed up for one of Riggleman’s campaign events.
And Riggleman is using a book Cockburn wrote in 1991 — which was critical of Israel and which is still cited by white supremacists — to tar her as an anti-Semite.
But despite her willingness to exploit practically anything for political gain, Cockburn has refrained from stumping with the single, real-life person who could take her campaign viral: her famous daughter.
“No, Olivia is very busy,” Cockburn told The Post when asked why her daughter hasn’t appeared with her even once in the 15 months she’s been running for Congress in a sprawling district bigger than New Jersey.
“She’s just directed her first movie,” Cockburn said, referring to Wilde’s teen comedy, “Booksmart,” now in post-production in Los Angeles. “And that is a full-time, seven-day-a-week job.
“She’s editing right now, so she doesn’t have time to be deployed.”
Cockburn should find a way to deploy Wilde anyway, political experts suggest, given her campaign’s high stakes and razor’s-edge, go-either-way margin.
The number-crunching website and political prognosticator 538 is calling the race a toss-up, giving her a 54.7 percent chance of winning. Riggleman is at 45.3 percent.
But Cockburn is already beating the odds.
She’s a staunchly anti-Trump candidate in a strongly pro-Trump district that voted for the president by 11 percent. She supports such Bernie Sanders-style initiatives as Medicare for all and free community college.
All of which makes it remarkable that the Cockburn-Riggleman race is so close.
“IT’S OFFICIAL: @FiveThirtyEight rates our race a Tossup!” her campaign tweeted on Aug. 16.
The tweet was retweeted by Wilde, who lives in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill with her fiancé, “Saturday Night Live” alum Jason Sudeikis, and their two young kids.
“Wow this is HUGE!!” the ever-supporting Wilde wrote in her retweet, posting a link to her mom’s campaign donation page. Wilde herself has donated $5,500, as has Sudeikis.
Cockburn would do well to pull the pin on Wilde and toss her into the fray, especially in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia — where 80 percent of voters went for Hillary Clinton.
“Look, I don’t think you would use Olivia Wilde at a campaign event in [small-town] Danville or something, but Charlottesville, sure, why not?” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at UVA’s Center for Politics.
“She’ll probably help you raise some money, get some attention,” he added. “There will be stories.”
Far more people these days have heard of Olivia Wilde — whose fans know her best as Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley from Fox’s medical drama “House” — than of her journalist mom, who raised her and her brother and sister in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood.
Still, Cockburn’s been fabulous in her own right.
“You’re sleeping on the ground in Somalia and hanging out in really horrendous refugee camps and being in war zones,” she recalled of her journalism career to The Daily Beast, after announcing her congressional run.
“I’ve been under fire, and not just under fire, but under Scuds and under thousand-pound bombs,” she said. “I’ve had people firing anti-aircraft weapons on the ground next to me when I was in Afghanistan and the city of Kabul was literally being destroyed in 1993 and all the mujahideen were fighting for control.
“I’ve been arrested several times,” she added. “I’ve been arrested all over the place. I was arrested as a spy in Gambia and had to flee across the northern border to Senegal.”
Cockburn was also hanging out with A-listers when Olivia, who’s now 34, was in diapers — as an award-winning journalist for “60 Minutes,” “Frontline” and Vanity Fair, where she and her husband of 40 years, Andrew — currently Washington editor of Harper’s — were contributing editors.
The family’s town house was filled with celebrities. Writer Christopher Hitchens was Wilde’s babysitter. Dinner guests included diplomat Richard Holbrooke and family friends Salman Rushdie — who has donated $1,000 — and Jagger, who’d go on to create HBO’s “Vinyl,” Wilde’s 2016 foray into cable drama.
“I was about 5 and one night I marched into the dining room and told this strange man who was sitting at the table to ‘get out of my chair,’ and he said, ‘No, go to bed!’ ” Wilde remembered in a 2011 interview with The Daily Mail.
“For years, my mom would say, ‘Mick Jagger told you to go to bed,’ which would be our joke because there are a lot of girls Mick Jagger has told to go to bed — but in a slightly different way,” she recalled.
Perhaps wary of being tarred as a Hollywood or media Elite, Cockburn has not mentioned the A-listers or the prestigious awards in her life, except to say that she is proud of her journalism.
At a recent campaign event in Charlottesville, Cockburn spoke of saving American lives by taking on Washington in a 2004 “60 Minutes” exposé on the Humvees in Baghdad.
Soldiers were being killed and maimed when mines exploded under the vehicles, which did not have an armored under-chassis.
“You’re giving voice to the voiceless in stories like that,” she told supporters. “And people here want to have a voice.”
Riggleman is trying to tar her as an outsider nonetheless.
“I think with her Washington, DC, address, an address in California, she’s a fly-in candidate,” Riggleman, apparently tired of those cow selfies, told The Post.
“I don’t really care who her daughter is,” he added. “What I care about is somebody who, you know, isn’t a Virginian who’s actually out here trying to campaign as one.
“It gets pretty aggravating.”
Cockburn has been plying her reporter skills, listening to veterans, opioid addicts, seniors and parents talk about their issues.
“So how many cows do you have here now?” she asks a family dairy farmer in Campbell County for an campaign ad on plummeting milk prices, before personally attaching a milking machine’s vacuum cups to a set of udders.
Imagine how viral a campaign photo op of Wilde milking a cow — with or without her mom — would go.
Wilde isn’t afraid, after all, to get her hands dirty on the campaign trail.
“Olivia was a very early Obama supporter and did very nonglamorous campaigning for us,” campaign strategist Alyssa Mastromonaco told The Post.
“Think minivan in a snowstorm in Iowa,” added Mastromonaco, who went on to serve as President Barack Obama’s deputy chief of staff for operations.
“I think it would be weird if she didn’t go out on the trail for her mother,” opined Lara Bergthold, a partner at the communications firm Rally who handled celebrities for John Kerry’s presidential run. “I think showing up for family members is a strong family value.”
Celebrities are great for “getting people out,” she noted. “It’s a tool to get people out of their homes and then to an event, and it’s really up to the candidate to take it from there.”
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