Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Virginia Trifecta

There's great news over at Raising Kaine about a bunch of new endorsements for Jim Webb. However, it all led me to the following rumination about the state of Fairfax, Virginia politics.

There is a curious disconnect between the national Democratic Party and the local Northern Virginia party. While local bigwigs in Fairfax County are lining up behind favorite son Harris Miller, the whole national party is rolling out the red carpet for Jim Webb, who recently won endorsements from Wes Clark and Max Cleland. And just today, Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, Dick Durbin, Ken Salazar, and Chris Dodd publicly endorsed Webb. Those are the big guns of the Senate. And they usually don't endorse candidates in local primaries.

But Miller is an inconvenient candidate. He’s like the kid in the choir who’s enthusiastic and well liked by his fellow singers, but who sings loudly and terribly off-key. No matter how much louder the others sing to try to drown him out, the discordant, sour notes are still there.

This year the Democrats are trying to craft a unified message and make a coordinated pitch to voters. While it’s difficult to determine what exactly that message will be – these are still Democrats, after all, and not an organized party – I am quite sure that that message won’t include hearty approval for a champion of outsourcing and “a consummate insider” lobbyist.

The Democrats are attempting to emphasize the differences between themselves and the Republicans by capitalizing on the lobbying scandal that has engulfed Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and the rest of the Republicans. A well-connected lobbyist like Miller, regardless of the fact that he is a world apart from Abramoff, undercuts that effort. This is just not the year of the lobbyist.

In fact, it’s not the year to be an insider. The Democrats best shot at winning is to run as angry outsiders and to blame everything from the war in Iraq to high oil prices on the incumbent party. It’s not only smart politics – in fact, it’s exactly what the Republicans did to the Democrats in 1994 – but it has the ring of truth to it. The Republicans have cut the Democrats out of most of their negotiations and most votes have passed or failed along party lines. Most of the lousy policy that has soured voters into saying that our country is going in the wrong direction is truly failed Republican policy that Democrats had little to do with. So, there’s no good reason not to run as an outsider and not to match the voters’ angry mood.

In this case, it’s honest as well as effective politics.

In a year when every time you open a newspaper or turn on the television there’s bad news on the doorstep about job layoffs, benefits and pension cuts, and salary cuts, the truly last thing the Democrats need is to have to try to defend a champion of outsourcing and guest worker programs who made his fortune lobbying for big corporations that make huge profits and reward their CEOs with obscenely generous bonuses for shipping American jobs overseas.

At a time when there is real, palpable anger at the way the economy is creating two America’s, Miller is on the wrong side of the fence.

To be sure, when it comes to the social and cultural issues, like abortion and gay rights, Miller is on the side of angels. But Webb has come out and said that he favors a woman’s right to choose and gay rights, effectively neutralizing those issues for the Democratic base. And then he moves off those issues. But that’s all Miller has in his favor in order to appeal to the base. And it’s considerable. A lot of Democrats, like a lot of Republicans, are more interesting in furthering the culture wars than getting elected.

Most Democrats, though, realize that to win they have to move off those divisive topics and speak to the country about the bread and butter issues that affect their lives on a daily basis. And they can’t ignore the very real national security concerns that people have.

Here too, Webb is more credible. The man served honorably in the Marines and is a decorated Vietnam War hero. He also served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration. You don’t get better credentials than those. And then he went off and became one of the earliest critics of the war in Iraq. He was one of the first to say what many in the military are now admitting privately and what some have even resigned their commissions to say publicly. He is the only candidate in this race who can oppose the Bush policies without losing his credibility in Virginia.

Harris Miller may be a nice man who stood up for women’s rights and gay rights and all the politically correct, typical liberal social issues in Northern Virginia. He obviously has a lot of friends here, many of them bright, influential people who are very loyal to him. And that speaks well of him. But he’s just not the right candidate for these times. And that’s why Harry Reid, Tom Daschle and other big name national Democrats are piling onto the Webb wagon. They’ve got a national campaign strategy to promote and Webb fits it better than Miller does.

And while all politics may be local, Virginia does not exist in a vacuum. Outside of Northern Virginia, Webb also plays better than Miller. For starters, he’s a born Virginian. He can connect better with voters in Southwest and the rest of rural Virginia than Miller can.

And in an interesting twist, he can help Mark Warner’s presidential aspirations far better than Miller can. Miller would probably lose a general election to George Allen. I don’t think that would particularly hurt Mark Warner’s chances in 2008. But if he went out and campaigned for Miller the way he did for Tim Kaine in 2004, and Miller lost, it would, at least, slightly tarnish Warner’s halo. I’m not saying it would be the body blow that ended Warner’s ambitions. Far from it. Warner has too much going for him for that to happen. But it would at least dent the armor of invincibility.

On the other hand, if Warner went full out for Webb and Webb pulled it off, it would be a real Virginia Trifecta. It would put Virginia politics on the map and give us strong momentum going into 2008. Especially since it’s Warner’s team, Steve Jardine and Dave “Mudcat” Saunders who are running Webb’s’ campaign.

Let’s put it this way, the high paid Washington insiders would be showing up at Mudcat’s property with notebooks and tape recorders in hand to see how Virginia did it and pressing their resumes into his hand for the Warner Administration.

What’s so bad about that outcome?


Alice Marshall said...

Who do you think knows more about winning elections in Virginia? Dick Durbin or Chuck Caputo?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Alice, sorry I just realized I had unpublished comments. I'm glad you posted.

I think Dick Durbin knows more about a coherent national message that Democrats are trying to get across to the whole country. And I think lots of people, like Chuck Caputo know and like Harris Miller. They go back as friends.

Sometimes you can be up too close and so not see the forest for the trees.

But I won't condemn anybody for standing by a friend. However, it doesn't convince me that Harris Miller is the best candidate either.