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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How Brian Moran's Campaign Got Bitten By Fleas

I was not going to write about this topic at all, but the truth is it's already out on the blogosphere. Three or four blogs that get more readers in five minutes than I get in five days are hotly debating it. Hopefully, there can be less heat and more light here.

As most readers of Virginia blogs and the Washington Post already know, Terry McAuliffe won a convincing victory at Gerry Connolly’s St. Patrick’s Day straw poll last night. Old news.

But I believe it’s a wake up call to Brian Moran that he has to do something to re-energize his campaign. Complaining that McAuliffe bought the election is beside the point. All sides buy tickets for supporters and have campaign staff there. Even the nonsense about out of state cars in the parking lot is not convincing. My husband drives a “company” car with Maryland license plates, and we have lived in Northern Virginia for over 18 years - in Burke for 17 of them.

I still think Brian Moran can win the primary - and that he should win it. As critical as I’ve been of some of his supporters who comment on blogs and of the tone of his campaign, I still believe he’s far and away the best candidate.

Creigh Deeds is one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met and if there could be a co-governorship, I’d vote for him too. But on issues, I’m closer to Brian’s positions than to Creigh’s. And I agree that Creigh doesn’t have enough of a base of support outside of NoVA to make up for the overwhelming support either Brian or Terry will get in June. November could be a different story. If Creigh pulls off an upset victory in the June primary, I think he would carry Northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Hampton Roads area by high enough margins and take enough of a chunk out of South and Southwest to win against McDonnell. It would be a nail biter of an election night, but it’s doable.

Terry, on the other hand, is the most charming, fascinating, and charismatic rogue I’ve ever met. Underestimate him at your peril. What he’s got going for him now is he has a coherent vision for Virginia, lots of creative ideas, a clear message, and a sunny, upbeat personality. He also is slick enough to grease a flagpole with his snake oil.

Brian, on the other hand, has some good solid working class street cred and his stands on clean energy, especially his opposition to the Surry plant, is nothing less than a profile in courage. I know better than most exactly which unions - it’s plural - are pissed at him for standing up for the environment and working people’s health. Believe me, after what I'm about to write, I don't think I want to face Cecil Roberts or Rich Trumka for a while.

In the interest of full disclosure, I spent a couple of my formative years in New York City, working as an office temp at Mount Sinai Medical School’s Environmental and Occupational Health Division. My boss was Dr. Arthur Frank, the protégée of Dr. Irving Selikoff, the brilliant doctor and scientist who did seminal work identifying the threat of asbestos to workers. He devoted his life to working on lung disease caused by environmental factors. Working for these men, I spent hours transcribing tapes of testimony from mine workers suffering from black lung disease. At the same time, my own uncle was dying a slow, horrible death from lung cancer in the cancer ward at Mount Sinai. I alternated between typing about lung disease and its symptoms and watching those symptoms play out and take a man’s life. Trust me, it was not a pretty sight and the memory has never left me.

Cancer and black lung disease are different diseases, but they share some common, painful, and ultimately deadly symptoms. And both are caused by environmental degradation.

In the interest of even fuller disclosure, my husband and I are in total disagreement on this as a campaign issue. But I believe there is no more pro-worker position you can take than to promote green jobs that get human beings out of coals mines and get coal fired plants out of Virginia.

All that said, Brian needs to revamp his campaign to regain lost momentum. If he does the things I’m about to suggest, I can’t guarantee he will win. If he ignores my suggestions, I can’t guarantee he’ll lose. Nobody can do that. But I know that if he keeps doing the same things that he has done so far, he runs the risk of getting the same result at the polls in June as he did at the straw poll last night. Those straw polls are not perfect indicators, but they’ve been a pretty good predictor in past years.

The first thing Brian needs to do is take a more positive tone. I don’t mean he shouldn’t differ with Terry or Creigh. Of course he should present reasons why he is the best candidate. But one thing I’ve observed about Democratic voters is that we don’t want our eventual nominee to come out of the primary bloodied. I’ve also observed that voters want civility even in the general election.

I’ve always been a huge advocate of defending oneself against an attack. I still believe it’s folly to ever let an attack from one’s opponent go unanswered. It is, however, equal folly to be the one initiating the attack. Here's an example of what I mean.

Years ago, I saw a movie about a prison where one of the characters was giving advice to a new inmate and said that in a fight you had to get in the first punch and take your enemy out before they had a chance to hit you. That may make sense in a prison yard where your rival could be twice your size physically and if he lands a punch, he'll kill you. But it doesn’t work in a schoolyard, where even the biggest, most vicious kid would be stopped by a teacher before doing serious harm. Most kids hate the bully who always throws the first punch. The only thing they hate more is the bully’s victim. Watching kids, you learn that the one they cheer for is the underdog who bests the bully. In a campaign, the same dynamic holds. Don’t throw the first punch, but be ready to fight back hard and clean when it comes.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to take back the first punch. But Brian needs to present himself positively, make the case that he’s the best person for the job, and refrain from personal attacks that single out any other.

But there’s another issue that has hurt Brian in some quarters. Again, this is being discussed all over several very well read blogs, so it needs to be addressed here too.

There was a recent dust up over one blogger’s endorsement of Terry McAuliffe. I’m not going to link to any of the many posts about it but the upshot is somebody in Brian’s campaign leaked some personal emails to another blogger who is particularly known for stirring up mud. I think it backfired and added to Brian’s wounds.

At this point, Brian needs to get the children in his campaign under his control and return the campaign to the adults, of whom there are several. Personally, I think Brian owes the wronged person an apology but that would be tactically hard to do without calling even more attention to the situation. At the very least, the person who leaked the email should privately apologize to the wronged blogger. And then he should be kept on a tight reign.

If it were my campaign, I’d probably fire the person - and not just for having appalling ethics but for being even more appallingly incompetent. Here’s why.

The released emails implied that the blogger had sought a job with Brian’s campaign and when he didn’t get it, he switched sides to Terry McAuliffe's campaign. It appears there is some truth to the charge. But the campaign should have sat on it.

If it was true, the blogger would have taken the job with the McAuliffe campaign. Once that was a fait accompli, the Moran campaign would have been well within its right to publicly question the blogger’s change of endorsement. Without being nasty, without leaking anything private, it would have been a legitimate question. And the campaign itself probably would have had to do nothing more than watch other bloggers and commenters do its heavy lifting.

Instead, it’s got the blood on its hands. The blogger turned down the job offer and now looks like the wronged victim. And even worse, the private email was leaked to the meanest dog in the junkyard, so the whole campaign is scratching huge fleabites. There is something to be said for having patience and giving your opponents the rope to hang themselves. But patience takes adults. And that goes back to my point about who Brian needs to listen to and who should be summarily put out to pasture.

Again, I don’t know if all that will help turn things around. But at this point, trying something different sure couldn’t hurt.


Aaron said...

Just a couple of things. First since you are in the know on union matters, where does Moran fall on right-to-work?

Second, I have said this elsewhere. A lot of folks on the blogs are saying we should just override the decisions of ODEC and its member coops. My question is has anybody talked to the rural consumers who are member of these electric coops and asked them what they want? Coops are democratic institutions. Why would we want to dictate to them what they should do rather than talk to them and convince them of the best course of action? The override strategy seems like a cop out or the easy way around having a real discussion with this constituency.

Not Larry Sabato said...

The meanest dog in the junkyard???

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Only metaphorically speaking, of course, Ben :)

Aaron, as far as I know, all the candidates support the right to work law. I heard Terry McAuliffe say, on a bloggers' conference call, that he was not in favor of repealing it. I believe Brian is on record as being in favor of it. And although I can't speak for Creigh Deeds, I don't think he has opposed it either.

I can say, though, that all of these candidates are far more sympathetic to labor than any of the Republicans currently running for office in Virginia are. And all three of them came out to a picket line to support labor on a very cold January day in Arlington.

As for the ODEC, I honestly don't know enough about that issue to comment knowledgeably right now. I have seen you raise the question before on BC and it's a good one. I need to think about it and do more research before I comment.

Doug in Mount Vernon said...

Great work and great writing, Karen. Thanks!

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you, Doug

Hokie Guru said...

All these blogger wars aside, Democrats need to unite after the primary... whoever has the most money (unfortunately... it can be done with less, but not likely these days) and organization is going to win the primary. Right? Sometimes I think the fact that I'm from North Dakota brings commonsense to Virginia. Sigh.

Good blog post, AIAW.