Saturday, April 5, 2008

VA-6: reflections on the recent campaign

Rick Howell posted his thoughts on Drew Richardson's exit from the race. While he makes some good points, he unfortunately returns to spitting the bile that characterized most of his commentary on that blog, in a letter to the editor, and in other forums during the brief campaign.
So, a few thoughts from the chicken house on Sam's success and the reasons Drew's campaign never gained traction. But remember Coarse Cracked Corn is 8% protein, 2.5% fat, and 2.75% fiber. Who knows what comes out the other end? You may see this post mostly as litter to spread on the fields before the spring rains.
When the battle began about two months ago, Sam had a big lead, that in hindsight was probably insurmountable. I don't know when Sam began visiting committees and visiting events to which Democrats flock, but at some point we all became aware of his presence. Yes, there were questions about his youth and comments about shallowness on issues. 
But, Sam was everywhere always greeting folks and (importantly) listening to what VA-6 Democrats had on their minds. As he and his campaign matured so did his understanding of a range of issues important to Democrats and residents of the district. While he spoke more frequently and in more depth some topics, like health policy, it was apparent that he was not a one issue candidate. By the fall of '07 many active Democrats were taking note and drawing favorable impressions.
Sam probably locked the hearts and minds of many Democrats by his willingness to show up and campaign for local and General Assembly candidates. With a smile and energy he went door-to-door, attended fundraisers, and helped where needed. Democrats didn't forget.
By the end of the year Sam was well positioned for the push for the nomination. He'd been to most local committees several times, had built up goodwill among even his skeptics, and had committed volunteers in most counties and cities. He'd grown as a candidate and developed his depth of knowledge on the core issues. He'd shown a willingness to attack Goodlatte on his failures - red meat for Democrats. He'd secured, or was close to securing, the support of various party leaders who appreciated his demonstrated commitment to local committees.
As we entered the new year the question echoed "where is that other guy who was going to run?" For months, rumors had been floating about his candidacy, but nothing was happening. He had great credentials and a compelling life story, but active Democrats didn't know much about him. I remember one person asking in a meeting "what about the FBI guy . . .?" and only a couple people there knew his name. Drew did write interesting columns for a newspaper and made bioterrorism presentations groups, but he really had not connected with the very groups who would be determining the nomination.
In January, Drew began visiting committees and more publicly floating the idea of his candidacy. His main theme then (and in the forum in Harrisonburg last week) seemed to be electability. Yes, he talked about security and other issues, but to many Democrats there was uncertainty about where he stood on core issues. Most importantly, time was running out to organize a good campaign before the local caucuses in mid April.
The uncertainly was reinforced when Drew did eventually announce. For a while, his website was only a greetings portal devoid of discussion of issues. Rumors were rife that he'd asked several people to join his campaign and he'd been rebuffed. Eventually word spread that he had Adam Sharp and Rick Howell on board. Both Adam and Rick have campaign experience and many thought the battle for the nomination had finally been joined.
However, many Democrats recoiled at the negative campaign that began emerging. Questioning Sam's age, contributions, religion, experiences, loyalty, etc. . . . ad nauseam. Posts on Rick's site and other blogs like Cobalt6 quickly became heated. Someone created a new blog, 81blue, to subtly attack Rasoul. Drew personally remained above the fray, but the message generated by Adam's and Rick's tactics was clear: with time short, the path to a Richardson victory was to be found in tearing Rasoul down rather than by lifting Richardson up. I'll repeat, many Democrats recoiled. Emotions got raw. Positions hardened.
Such a strategy may have worked in a primary where a larger numbers of people voting may not have known either candidate personally. But in local caucuses, where the participants would likely be party activists who knew both candidates, it was doomed.
By the first of April, it was clear that time was running short for the Richardson campaign to round up delegates for all the local caucuses throughout the district. Instead of negative attacks, the campaign staff could better have better spent time calling and meeting Democrats to make personal appeals. But, Rasoul's folks weren't sitting still - they were lining up committed delegates at every opportunity.
Drew is a smart guy and, given this landscape, he knew the odds were heavily against his eventual success. The caucuses would have been bloody battles filled with rules and credentials challenges. Rumor is that he was never comfortable with the negative tone coming out of his campaign - a piercing tone that crowded out his discussions on issues.
Drew's comments as he withdrew from the campaign were both gracious and realistic, creating the environment for greater party unity as we face the fall campaign. Hopefully, his supporters will follow his lead. Drew is a committed Democrat and we can all hope he will stay active in the 6th District and perhaps seek office at another time.
So, what has this old rooster learned by pecking around in the coarse cracked corn of this campaign?
Get an early start - especially important if you aren't known to Democrats throughout this large district. Perhaps someone with widespread name recognition could enter just a couple months before the caucuses and prevail, but there aren't too many candidates like that.
Resist going negative - Democrats are not comfortable with negative campaigning, especially against one of their own. Pointing out differences on issues is okay; getting personal or rumormongering is not.
Get comfortable with retail politics - all politics is personal and Sam has proven to be very good and comfortable at it. All magnified in a caucus nominating process.
Pay your dues - a commitment to helping other Democrats' campaigns and fundraising events will not be forgotten.
OK, enough pecking in the coarse cracked corn of this one. Moving on . . .
Peck. Peck.

7 comments:

Avenger said...

This is an excellent analysis, one that should be shared widely and taken to heart!

Brent Holl said...

I agree. Shining light on the issues is the most important campaign strategy! Have a link.

:)

Anonymous said...

I found this on Roanoke Red Zone...It seems Rick, at least in part, was right:

"According to the State Board of Elections, Sam Rasoul, Democratic hopeful in the 6th Congressional District, voted in the 2005 Republican Primary. In doing so, he skipped voting in the Democratic Primary the same day between Chap Peterson and Leslie Byrne. He also did NOT vote in the 2006 Democratic Primary between Miller and Webb.

This certainly doesn't prove that Rasoul has been and maybe still is a Republican, but it does bring into question his dedication to the Democratic Party. When will Rasoul address this issue?"


So, my question is, how can the dems in the 6th really gain power with a candidate who voted republican? I think that we dems need to look elsewhere for someone with the dedication to be proud to be who they are without pandering to what will get them elected.

Is Sam Rasoul Virginia's next Virgil Goode? Mr. whatever'll-get-me-elected?

Let's find someone else!

Avenger said...

anonymouse, you've been caught in a trap

So what if Sam Rasoul voted in Republican primaries? So what if he even once considered himself a Republican? He's a Democrat now; he's been a hard-working Democrat long enough to earn the 6th District's Grass-Roots Award. Who among us in the 6th District can say the same? Damn few of us, that's who.

And as for your last remark, did you just arrive on the planet? Have you ever heard of Jim Webb, who not only was once a Republican but served in a Republican administration? But he's a Democrat now. So get over yourself, and get behind Sam.

anonymous2 said...

Humm, anonymous--I wonder if the gop would claim him? I mean after Sam's roasting Goodlatte online and in emails, campaigning for Dems throughout the district, and winning the Dem's grassroots award. Somehow, I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Understanding that he won the "grass roots award," which must be about as wonderful as winning a Nobel... Also, understand the time between Jim Webb's run as a Democrat and his service in a republican administration. Doesn't change take time?

Is it really a trap to believe that you can honestly change your whole ideology in a matter of a year? Not even that. I honestly think that this shows that the dems-or those who see themselves as grass roots, intellectual, and metropolitan- are really big party, pseudo-intellectual, luddites who are being fooled by a republican.

Look at Virgil Goode, how long did it take him to go from Democrat to famous Muslim-hater? Just about as long as it took Sam Rasoul to leave behind fiscal conservatism and embrace...health care and increasing business (isn't that a republican thing?) Guess most of the dems really don't care about the farmer or laborer.

Belle Rose said...

"anonymous" your comparison to Virgil Goode is bogus. Goode was a Democrat AND and a racist. When Southern Dems shed their right wing and racist ways, guys like Goode found a more comfortable home in the GOP which moved to fill that void in their "southern strategy" that dates back to when? Nixon?

Other than you and a couple other suspect sources, I have found no credible evidence that Rasoul was a GOP activist. You are engaging in rumormongering based on few or no facts.