Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Red Dawn

If you're a Republican and you volunteered or even worked for the party this year, you deserve congratulations. Campaigns are long, stressful, exhausting and brutal affairs, and I'm sure plenty of folks spent plenty of hours making phone calls and pounding the pavement for your candidates. You deserve props, even though I think you backed the wrong people.

But if you're a Democrat, last night sucked. Not only did we lose all three top-ticket races, we even lost good down-ticket candidates; I'm more disappointed about losing Shannon Valentine in Lynchburg than any other race in the state (or the country for that matter). We lost a lot of ground last night. Sure the economy played a big role, as did Virginia's tendency to vote against the current White House (though I don't think last night was a referendum on President Obama--he's still fairly popular in Virginia and most voters in VA and NJ said he had no bearing on their vote). There's an excellent analysis at Blue Virginia and Ben Tribbett is spot-on in his piece at FireDogLake. There's no need to completely re-write the post-mortems, but I thought I'd offer a few observations of my own:

More than anything else, I think this year the GOP just wanted it more. They got out their base, first to volunteer and then to vote. In contrast, the term "circular firing squad" comes to mind when I think about the aftermath of the primary. There's a good argument that Wagner and Deeds ran up sizeable margins in their nomination, and so party disunity should not be seen as a major factor. But the problem with that argument is that even though the opposition vote was split, over half of primary voters supported someone other than Creigh Deeds, and did so passionately. I have to believe there were hard feelings left over from June; I've heard too many horror stories from field organizers to believe otherwise. Whether the primary itself demoralized the grassroots or merely created faults that ruptured when Deeds failed to reunite the party and became Republican-Lite, something kept Democrats at home. It's easy to blame Deeds for that, but frankly I would have liked to see more support from his former opponents. While Creigh could have done more to unify the party, at some point the Democratic base becomes culpable. Whatever our qualms about him or any of the candidates, we're still Democrats and we should have worked harder.

We also got lulled into a fantasy world last year and prematurely declared ourselves a blue state. Like it or not, Virginia is still a place where Democrats have to fight like hell for every single vote, and it will be for some time. Let's not forget that next year.

The easiest target and probably the biggest factor is that Creigh Deeds ran an abysmal campaign. I hate to say that about a guy I respect so much, but there's no denying it. The fact is, we had to pick from three less-than-good choices in the spring and I still maintain that as a candidate (not as a campaigner), Deeds was the most electable of the three. He did seem to have the broadest appeal and with a better campaign, he would have been much more competitive.

I also agree with those who say we need to nominate strong progressives in order to keep the base energized and draw strong contrasts with the right, but we have to be careful not to overdo it (i.e. not nominate the lefty equivalent of Cuccinelli--the GOP got lucky this year). Had Moran been our nominee, his leftward movement during the primary would have caught up with him; McAuliffe's ties to the Clintons and highly partisan background would have destroyed him in the rural areas, where any statewide candidate still needs to at least compete. Not to mention his dealings with Global Crossing; whether he did anything wrong or not, the appearance was there and it was bad.

I will never understand why Creigh's campaign did (or didn't do) a lot of things--skipping the Shad Plank, being MIA for at least a month after the primary, and the thoroughly baffling decision to bring abortion into the race back in August are a few things that come to mind. I also don't understand the lack of visibility. Here in Southside, I started seeing McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli 4x8's popping up everywhere back in June--and they were completely unopposed. I didn't see Deeds 4x8's until late August, and to this day, I have yet to see any for Wagner or Shannon. We had coordinated yard signs, but that just isn't gonna cut it for name recognition.

We are now 364 days away from the polls closing on the 2010 midterms. This one's over and it's time to move on. Let's push our candidates and officeholders to their best, and then let's stand behind them. We need to be ready for a fight, particularly in the Fifth. The big guns are out and the Republicans smell blood. Let's be ready.

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