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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Virginia's Future Depends on June 9th Primary

Vivian Paige has a cogent analysis on her site , explaining what’s at stake in this year’s election.

First, she tackles the peculiar Virginia tradition that the party of the sitting president usually loses the governor’s mansion. I always dismissed this as an old saw or random historical coincidence, without much underlying meaning. But according to Vivian, some political scientists and analysts believe it may be because a new president’s first year in office often is bumpy. Indeed, observers have noted that the president’s party also frequently loses seats in the midterm elections. The only recent president to break that pattern was Bush in 2002, and most politicos attribute that to the national unifying effects of the 9/11 attack.

Vivian makes the very apt point that by next November, President Obama’s approval ratings may not be so high, especially because the economic situation is not expected to improve significantly that quickly. No matter how great a job he actually is doing, the public mood could sour on him, as it did on President Clinton in his first term. Like Clinton, the long-term outlook may prove him to be a very effective president who leaves office with a healthy economy and the country enjoying prosperity. But in the short term, the public may grow impatient with the slow pace of recovery. That’s especially true because the unemployment rate hasn’t even bottomed out yet. Unemployment is always a lagging indicator, so that will be the last number to improve, and it probably won’t get significantly better before next year, or even possibly the midterms.

Given that, Vivian argues that the gubernatorial candidate will need to be able to credibly distance himself from the national party and run as a Virginia Democrat. I think she may be right.

Insider-Outsider Dichotomy

Taking Vivian’s argument to its logical conclusion, Virginia Democrats might want to take a closer look at Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds, two candidates whose Virginia creds are impeccable.

Before going further, let’s dismiss the nonsense that Terry McAuliffe is a carpetbagger. Of course, Republicans will throw that charge out at him. So have some Democrats. But he’s lived in McLean longer than I’ve lived in Burke. And I’m certainly no carpetbagger.

I can hear readers objecting, “But he’s always been focused on the national level, not like you.”

Oh, don’t be so sure. As a matter of fact, for my first few years in Virginia, I didn’t even consider myself a real Virginian. I am a Northerner by birth. I’ve lived in the South long enough to know that culturally I’m not a Southerner. And since I worked in DC and had no children in Virginia schools, my ties to the commonwealth were nominal. I cared much more about who was president or senator than I did who was governor, much less who my Fairfax supervisor was. That gradually changed with time. It may have for Terry too. I am certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

I do think, though, that Terry McAuliffe, the national party’s consummate insider, running as an outsider to Richmond was dazzling in its sheer audacity. And not in a good way, though it was amusing to watch for a while. Here’s why it might backfire on him.

The Big Liability

As Vivian pointed out, by November being an outsider, associated more with national Democrats, might be a liability in this state for reasons beyond Terry’s or anybody’s control. But the candidate may well have to run on a Democratic version of Virginia values.

Either Brian Moran or Creigh Deeds are better positioned to do that. In addition, both of them will be able to point out that Virginia Democrats are more business friendly and moderate than the national party. Furthermore, Moran or Deeds could back that up by pointing out that under Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Virginia has been named best place to do business and best managed state by such pro-business groups as the U.S. Chambers of Commerce. Do we really want a candidate who has to run against the record of successful Virginia Democrats?

Probably not.

Nothing Wrong With McAuliffe

Truthfully, I don’t have any serious objection to McAuliffe. I think he was a good DNC chair. I know others want to lay all the party’s failures in the early 2000s on him, but that’s not fair. When he took over the DNC, the party was broke and needed his powerhouse fundraising skills. I would even argue that Howard Dean’s successful 50-state strategy, which I absolutely supported, would not have been possible without the funds McAuliffe brought in. McAuliffe also built up the party’s database out of next to nothing.

Furthermore, his association with the Clintons is a plus for me. Bill Clinton was a successful president who left this country with a strong economy and a $236.2 billion surplus. I didn’t agree with him on NAFTA and other trade agreements, to be sure, but at the time he was in office, the conventional wisdom of the best minds was that free trade produced prosperity. Under Clinton, deregulation and the harshness of the American capitalist system were mitigated by some progressive policies. Perhaps, under a Clinton or a Gore administration, the complete financial meltdown we’ve just experienced would not have occurred because they would not have implemented such extreme tax cuts for the wealthy nor stripped all regulation as radically as the Republicans did. All that is speculation. But I suspect that free trade, as long as it’s coupled with fair trade agreements and some sensible regulation, basically works. The reason we need measures that are more radical now is because the situation is so dire. You’ve got the country in economic heart failure, so you have to perform open-heart surgery, not stick a band-aid on a minor cut.

But I digress. My point was simply that I won’t be joining those trashing Terry McAuliffe for any of his alleged sins like his connections to the Clinton or not being a “real Virginian.”

But Can Terry Mac Overcome History and Timing?

I don't think he can. I do think, however, that given Virginia’s history with the governor’s mansion, the reasons why it happens, and the slow economic recovery that will hurt the Democrat’s chance anyway, that perhaps the timing is against his candidacy. It certainly will be much harder for him to distance himself from the national party and run as a traditional Virginia Democrat than it would be for the other two candidates, with their long history in the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate. It may be unfair, but the wind may just be blowing in McAuliffe’s face, rather than at his back.

What’s at Stake

A Democratic failure - if this scenario holds true - is a distinct possibility. The ramifications of that are truly chilling. As Vivian points out, we would lose any chance at a nonpartisan redistricting plan. That would have an ominous effect on our prospects for electoral victory in both the state and national elections. Republicans would be drawing up all the new districts. Remember what happened the last time they got to do that?

Here’s the money quote from Vivian:
This has been my fear all along. A dip in the popularity of the president (combined with dismal approval ratings of Congress) could very well tank the chances for Democrats – not only to win the governor’s mansion but also actually lose some seats in the House of Delegates. With that goes any chance for reasonable redistricting reform and Republican-drawn districts for the next ten years. Kiss goodbye Congressman Perriello and Congressman Nye, as those districts will be likely redrawn to more favor Republican candidates.
That’s a lot to kiss good-bye. We worked very hard to overcome some really partisan districting that was not in our favor. Frankly, I don’t want to see us return the favor to the state GOP because I actually believe districts should be contiguous, should make sense, and should not cut up neighborhoods just for political gain. But I trust the Democrats more than I do the Republicans to bring fairness to the process.

Vote Wisely in the June 9th Primary

So when you make your decision on whom to vote for in the June 9th Primary, act as though Virginia’s entire future depends on it, because it really does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have offered the most compelling explanation yet why Democrats should not get lazy. It is lazy to think that a guy can buy an election in this state, or that independents -- who will be needed in the fall -- give one second's thought to all the out of state celebrities. It is lazy to pick the most progressive or most centrist on this or that. Hungry parties are successful parties and in this case, a successful party asks itself "Who Beats Bob?"

I love Tim Kaine like a brother though he is more liberal on SOME things than I am. I have seen a good analysis that suggests the only reason the GOP won LG and AG last time is that many independents thought Tim to be a good, even great human, but maybe just a tad progressive for them. So they split votes.

I've got news - both McAuliffe and Moran are more liberal than Kaine and they both have baggage that won't sell with some independents. One has baggage that is an accident of birth, the other's toting Pullman's full of it (the same ones he hauled cash in when renting the Lincoln bedroom).

I understand the craving some progressives -- they want a liberal government and they want it now. Fact is, the country's not that liberal and neither is Virginia.

End of the day, if you want to beat Bob, Deeds is your only choice.