Thursday, June 11, 2009

Primary lessons

Academics, pundits, bloggers, and everybody's brother will be analyzing Virginia's gubernatorial primary for the lessons of June 9. So, I may as well throw out a little cracked corn myself.
Money can't buy ya love. Terry McAuliffe had plenty of it. Brian Moran raised a bunch, too. Creigh told me way back in January, when McAuliffe jumped in, that now money would be less of a factor for him. Creigh predicted that McAuliffe and Moran would use their money mostly against each other, saying, "I'll have enough to get my message out and that's all I need...." McAuliffe's money raising prowess got him in the game, but in the end I think it hurt more than helped - Virginia Democrats didn't like the notion that big out-of-state money could buy the nomination.
Ya gotta stand for something. With his long record of service to the Commonwealth, Democrats knew where Creigh was coming from and where he wants to go. We got the sense that with Creigh was all about Virginia's future. With McAuliffe the message was more muddled - there was always the suspicion it was more about Terry's future and the Governor's Mansion was a stepping stone to somewhere else.
Sometimes endorsements matter. I generally don't think newspaper endorsements move that many voters. But, the Washington Post's endorsement of Deeds seems to have been a turning point in this race. NOVA voters, who are often more focused on D.C. than on Richmond, have an interesting connection with the Post - many seem to rely on it for good advice on what's happening down state. The endorsement, back by solid reasoning, explained Deeds to them terms that made it clear he wasn't some hillbilly from the backwoods and why he was the best choice for Fairfax, et al. As the news about the Post's endorsement rippled across the state, it reinforced every part of Deeds' message.
Its the Old Dominion, after all. Steeped in political tradition, there is a Virginia way of doing things. It is virtually impossible to imagine someone moving to the Commonwealth just to run for statewide office. That may fly for New York, but not here. Yes, I know McAuliffe has a home in Virginia, but until he showed interest in running for Governor, nobody except his next door neighbor knew that. I guess that old bumper sticker about Virginia not being just a place but a state of mind, sort of sums it up. McAuliffe never sold us on being a Virginian. Creigh's Virginia roots, nourished in Bath County and honed in Charlottesville, run deeper than either of his opponents.
Sound and fury vs slow and steady. Creigh has been in Virginia public life for two decades. He's steadily moved from local office to the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. Not flashy, but constant progress on issues, on finding solutions, on serving constituents. McAuliffe entered the race with all kind of flash - I recall one blogger/online news writing something like "...when did I know I'd support Terry McAuliffe? From the moment he walked into the room...." I'll admit McAuliffe can work a crowd and capture the attention of a room - I've seen it firsthand and he is impressive. Most, but not all, Virginia Democrats got over the initial infatuation and came back to Creigh, who they knew and trusted.
Virginia Democrats like hard work. All three candidates are hard working guys, but I think Creigh helped himself by keeping his seat in the Virginia Senate. Yes, he gave up two months of fundraising, but staying in the legislature reinforced his reputation of being a guy who works hard for constituents and the state - traits we want in the governor. Hey, didn't right wing Bob resign as attorney general??
Virginia Democrats like winning. The last few years have been like the wonder years for Virginia Democrats. Winning is so much more fun than losing. And the government works better too. As June 9 approached many Democrats asked the question - who can win in November? Most answered Creigh Deeds - he'd have the best chance to unite the party after a primary battle and, come November, he'd pull in independents and perhaps some moderate Republicans turned off by right wing Bob. Moran never made that sale. McAuliffe, with the Clinton connection, was his own negative advertising on this one.
Deeds river runs wide and deep. Creigh's victory is impressive not just because of his 50% win over two well-known and well-funded opponents, it is astonishing that he won every congressional district except the 3rd (Richmond through parts of Hampton Roads) where McAuliffe beat him by 2%. His biggest percentage was in his own 6th District (70%) but he did very well in many others, often besting his nearest opponent by double digits. Creigh won big where expected, but also beat Moran and McAuliffe on their home turf.
What primary? With statewide turnout of 319,000 or about 6.3% (best was 11.7% in the 8th District), it is clear that the idea of a primary hasn't quite caught on in the Old Dominion. Just not part of our tradition - yet. That's too bad, because it is clearly the more democratic process. But, 2009 is better turnout than the June 2005 primary that was a dual primary - the GOP had a primary for governor and attorney general while the Dems had one for lieutenant governor (there were also House primaries). Another way to look at it - turnout for the Democratic nominating process topped the turnout for the Republican nominating process by over 309,000. So, which party is more connected to the people?
Don't give up your day job. I fully expect Moran and McAuliffe to work pretty hard for Creigh. Yeah they are smarting from the shellacking, but it is also in their interests for Deeds and Democrats to be successful this November. McAuliffe's life is all about politics and he'll reemerge on the national stage (doubt he'll test Virginia waters again) and a McAuliffe-aided win will restore some polish. Moran, who I think has much to offer Virginia, is in a different situation. Brian gave up his day job in the House of Delegates to concentrate on the campaign, so now he has no natural base from which to launch a comeback. I have no doubt he'll find a way, and the starting point is being a good soldier for Deeds and the other Democratic campaigns.
Okay, enough of this for now. Was going to make a comment or two about the lieutenant governor race (like how did Signer do so well in a few Valley localities) but that will have to wait or not happen at all. Just had to get a neighbor's spooked cow out of the yard (soft soil = deep divots) and back with her calf. Need to brew some iced tea and cool off after the exercise. A big load of recycling to take before the storms gear up this afternoon. Cluck.


Anonymous said...

On Hardball, David Corn said many VA Democrats saw TM as an "interloper" and a "used car salesman". That Corn said it better with less words than your cracked corn.

unionman said...

Good post CCC. Thanks. Now on to victory! Go Creigh!

Belle Rose said...

Thanks, unionman. There is so much more for Dems to take from this primary. Other thoughts?