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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Special Election Wrap Up: Thoughts on What Wins and What Doesn't

First, congratulations to Sharon Bulova for winning and to Pat Herrity for a hard fought campaign that came so close. Now, I can tell you my secret fear was that Herrity would prevail. Special elections and low turnout favor the GOP in Fairfax. It’s how Ken Cuccinelli slipped into a district far more liberal than he is. And once he was an incumbent, he kept his seat with good constituent service and a winning personality.

I think my blogging buddy, Bwana, is right about one thing. Charnielle Herring’s very close election shocked Democrats into working harder, otherwise Pat would have won this election. As I’ve said before, Democrats were fresh from the solid victory in November. They were savoring the glow of success, focusing on holidays and then preparing for the Inauguration. Most people I knew were paying closer attention to securing Inauguration tickets than they were to campaigning for still another special election. Republicans, on the other hand, were hungry for another shot at winning something. I’ve been where they are now, and I know that when you lose, you want to go back and fight harder. Democrats just wanted to relax and bask in the warmth of victory. That made them soft.

But the truth is Republicans should not be consoling themselves because the race was so close. If they couldn’t win this one, they should be very worried. Here’s why.

This could have been the GOP’s perfect storm, the one whose wave they could ride and whose storm surge would sweep Sharon out of the running and put a Republican in charge. As VA Blogger observed, on Too Conservative:

Well, we gave it our best and we lost. For my money, I’m not sure there’s anything much the campaign could have done to make up those 1200 votes. The independent candidates (particularly DeCarlo, who targeted Republicans) didn’t cost the election. The Republican ground game was clearly superior to Sharon’s, and outworked her campaign across the County; Sharon won on by running on her party label and, as Ben said, bringing Braddock District out in force.
I think VA Blogger is right on target that Sharon won by running on the party label and delivering Braddock District. It was, after all, a special election. That means it was a base election and the key to winning was turning out your people in superior numbers to your opponent's supporters. Sharon did that. The question, though, is why did more Democrats turn out than Republicans?

Two things: Bad brand and worse message.

The Republican brand has been battered at the top level. This is just not their year. But more important, the local GOP had a bad message.

Their meme was that this race was a referendum on Gerry Connolly, whom they believe mismanaged Fairfax County. Worse, according to them, Sharon Bulova should be held responsible for the $650 million budget shortfall. In another time and place that might have worked.

But Fairfax is filled with smart voters, people who work for the federal government, defense contractors, and high tech firms. Our county is home to accountants, engineers, business people, and professionals who read newspapers, watch TV news shows besides just Fox, and surf the web. They are well read and well informed. They understand that a local municipality or county gets its revenue stream from property taxes and sales taxes. And they also realize that a housing bubble burst, there have been record mortgage foreclosures and property values have plummeted, all of which brought down the amount of tax money the county could collect. In addition, consumers aren’t consuming. People are cutting back on eating out and buying non-essential goods. So revenue from sales taxes is down too. Furthermore, they realize that Sharon Bulova could no more have predicted that than businesses like Caterpillar and Nextel could have predicted the downturn that caused them to lay off thousand of workers.

And even if they didn’t realize it, the local newspapers, in articles and editorials, pointed it out in two election cycles. Holding politicians accountable is a good thing. Blaming them for things beyond their control, not so much. It’s a failing strategy for winning elections.

Politicians and businessmen are not psychics. They don’t read tea leaves or gaze in crystal balls. Ironically, every time a Republican tried to lay the blame for budget shortfall at Bulova’s feet, it reminded people about who really caused the recession and mortgage crisis, Republicans at the federal level, and their failed policies. That’s why it rebounded on the GOP and Herrity.

In addition, Herrity tried to run on a platform of change, which had worked so well for Democrats in November. But here’s the cruelest irony for him. While voters did want change from the Bush administration and the GOP at the national level, they are happy with the way Fairfax is run. Those who came out yesterday, came to vote against Herrity’s change and for the status quo. Here’s what the Washington Post said:
From Mount Vernon to McLean, from Baileys Crossroads to Centreville, many who did brave wet roads and deserted polling places said they were motivated either to keep the Democratic brand going strong in Virginia or to give their seal of approval to Bulova's promise of continuity. Herrity's message of change, in particular his pledge to bring more scrutiny to county spending, alarmed some residents who are happy with services as they are.

"I wanted to make sure to keep the community centers open so little kids have a place to go," said Nana Osei, 20, who attends Northern Virginia Community College and said the talk there was that Bulova would do a better job protecting such services. "Like they all say, kids are the future."
Meanwhile, Herrity still remains an attractive candidate for the GOP. And each loss makes them hungrier for the next time. For now, though, they need a truly new message, at least, in Fairfax. They need to do more than simply run against the status quo. They need to articulate what they stand for instead. It takes more than a fresh face. It also takes fresh ideas and the ability to say yes to something. It turns out people actually like the programs Fairfax provides. Perhaps telling them you get what you pay for might work?

4 comments:

VA Blogger said...

"They need to articulate what they stand for instead. It takes more than a fresh face. It also takes fresh ideas and the ability to say yes to something. It turns out people actually like the programs Fairfax provides. Perhaps telling them you get what you pay for might work?"

See, this is what I don't get. Herrity lays out, in public events, and on his website that you can view at any time, what he stood for. He articulated his vision in more detail than I've ever seen on a campaign website. Yet you're still holding on to this same meme that Republicans don't stand for anything?

What's even more galling is that, according to Sharon Bulova, her campaign, her public apperances, and her supporters, she stands for nothing. Not a single thing does she oppose or support, other than a retelling of her biography, and you write about how Herrity needed to articulate what he stood for better? Are you high?

Apparently, you and other Democrats got it into your head that Herrity was opposed to everything, and would cut all services to reduce the size of government. This is a complete invention of reality, and you pawning your own side's lie as a "bad message" to run on means that you should do just a little bit of independent research before you make baseless conclusions.

Herrity said he had the ability to say "No", while at the same time saying "Yes" to County priorities. Bulova's response was, don't say "No" ever, to anyone---which is probably why the budget has grown by over a BILLION dollars in the past decade.

But Fairfax residents don't mind what they are unaware of, and so the cycle continues.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else find these two quotes extremely ironic

"It was, after all, a special election. That means it was a base election and the key to winning was turning out your people in superior numbers to your opponent's supporters."

vs

"But Fairfax is filled with smart voters, people who work for the federal government, defense contractors, and high tech firms. Our county is home to accountants, engineers, business people, and professionals who read newspapers, watch TV news shows besides just Fox, and surf the web. They are well read and well informed."

AIAW you can't have it both ways. I agree with you I think and VA Blogger that it was a base election.

The D base is bigger than the R base here based on demographics. Fairfax county is one party D territory.

I knew this going in Bulova didn't even want the position. She has NEVER wanted to be a politician. She also lied and continued to lie in almost every mail piece. Her crowning achievement is VRE for crying out loud.

That is why I am so frustrated you had in Bulova someone with no vision no leadership who didn't even want the job, who waits for others to act first vs someone who actually had a plan and a strategy and a clue.

Bulova should have retired long ago. She is basically going to continue to be a puppet. It should be interesting to see which D actually ends up controlling the board and her.

NMM

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

First NMM, no I don't see the irony. Base elections do bring out the most partisan on both sides and that is the Republicans' best shot, or used to be, at winning a race in Fairfax. That said, some ordinary people, who are not political junkies, do turn out. There are some who are simply good citizens who believe it's their duty to vote. Good for them!

Fairfax is filled with many smart, professional people. They compose the base of both parties. No contradiction there. But all it takes to tip the election is to get your side out more strongly than your opponent's side turns out.

Where the GOP message went bad (or, at least, was ineffective), was simply in focusing too much on alleged fiscal mismanagement as the cause of the budget shortfall. Most people, except for the most dyed in wool Republicans, just didn't buy it. That includes moderate Republicans.

That's because they know that the shortfall is very much tied to a reduction in revenue from sales taxes, the mortgage defaults and the collapse of housing values.

You are certainly free to refuse to believe this if you'd like. Frankly, I'm not going to spend any more time arguing the point. Feel free to be in denial. But it won't help you to retool your message.

Of course, Pat Herrity also ran on his plans and what he wanted to do. But he, and especially the bloggers, just were too focused on blaming Sharon, and even Gerry before her, for a revenue shortfall caused by a weakening economy, something Republicans at the national level, not local Democrats (or local Republicans, for that matter) were responsible for.

He obviously needed a better message or he would have won. You can, again, feel free to deny it and keep losing, or recognize it and find that better message.

Anonymous said...

You are still using the same talking point.

Basically the sky is falling and everyone else is in trouble.

Ok but what are you going to do about it. Bulova had done nothing.
Also spending has been out of control the past seven years leading to a greater cliff to fall from this year.

This is the talking point I would have used to counteract your talking point. She let the budget double in less than seven years. Have services doubled in effectiveness for you? What can you specifically point to that has improved so much to warrant a doubling in spending.

Herrity proposed an alternate budget last year and proposed cuts in the current budget instead of waiting.

So we have Bulova and we wait. A woman who doesn't want to lead and so far has proven she can't lead. Like I said it should be interesting to see which D actually leads the board with Connolly gone. That is a huge vacuum to fill.

I'm not sure exactly where you live but its more fun for me in Braddock district now :-p.

No hard feelings

NMM