Lessons from the Old Dominion’s Gubernatorial Election

The big news out of Virginia today is Virginia is experiencing “blue shift.”  A state that was once reliably red has become increasingly competitive for the Democratic Party.  Part of it is because the northern part (closest to D.C.) is becoming very blue, but part of it is because the GOP still rewards candidates who trip over each other in the contest to become the most bat-shit-crazy Tea Partier ever seen.

This race should have been in the bag for the GOP, but many factors beyond the control of the candidates made this a much closer race—the government shut down, the Affordable Care Act, and other national issues muddied the waters, but the biggest injuries were self inflicted.

Virginia Republicans still uses a system of Nominating Convention to select their candidates.  They gather in a small convention center, pony up $25 per person (including children), and whoever shows up votes to determine the candidate.  This system virtually assures the most extreme candidates will get the nod.  People have to travel to the convention, pay for transportation, accommodations, and admission.  This doesn’t make it too accessible to small business owners (who can’t afford to miss work), the poor or elderly (especially since conventions can go late into the night), or just about anyone else who isn’t a political fanatic.  In the end, they chose a candidate for governor that chose to campaign with Senator Ted Cruz during the government shutdown.  Since 1 in 3 Virginia families were directly affected by the shutdown that was brought on by Senator Cruz, nobody but a fool (or Tea Party Extremist) would even think to associate themselves with Cruz.

Here in Wisconsin, we have a primary system.  It allows anybody in the state to participate without cost.  It usually takes about 5 minutes to vote, and there are polling stations all over the state.  Primaries generally produce fairly moderate candidates because they have to appeal to a larger swath of people, and they give candidates at least some experience on the campaign trail—including vetting their personal lives, debate skills, and ability to relate to voters.

It begs the questions—why would Wisconsin want to move away from this system of candidate selection.  In Virginia, by the last ballot of their nominating convention, a little over 5,000 people cast ballots to determine their standard bearer. What we’re looking at in Wisconsin is a system where a handful of people want to pressure, cajole, and sabotage any candidate who would think of running for Governor, unless her name is Mary Burke.  They wrap up their arguments in dollar bills—but my question is:  If someone other than Mary Burke were to win the primary, would the leaders in the Democratic Party NOT support them?  Would they not contribute money, and leave them out to dry?  Is Scott Walker that much more preferable than not getting their way?

We need to get it into our thick little skulls that this election isn’t about “anyone but Walker.”  I can’t imagine a worse scenario than electing a lack-luster Democrat that nobody likes to be our standard bearer, because then the only way to do better is the election AFTER a Republican ousts them.  Most Democrats, liberals, and progressives are going to vote for whoever runs against Walker anyways—so how about finding the candidate we feel passionate about instead of the candidate we can stomach?

I’m not pretending to say I know who that candidate is (yet), but after a vigorous and positive primary, I have a feeling I will know who can best lead Wisconsin forward.


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13 thoughts on “Lessons from the Old Dominion’s Gubernatorial Election

  1. Brian, I agree. You pose important questions. Mark Harris wanted to run but was
    talked out of it by the DPW. Kathleen Vinehout is very interested. Maybe someone from the legislature will run. A primary would produce the best candidate whom we can all rally around.

  2. What I saw were the Republican donors sitting on the sidelines instead of backing the candidate the activists supported. Terry Mcauliffe won because Virginia voters found out Ken Cuccinelli is crazy. I actually think the Virginia governors race symbolizes every aspect that is wrong in American Politics. Instead of having star candidates showing the voters how they will make the best decisions for the state in office, the voters have to pick the candidate that is less terrible than the other.

  3. A little correction: Virginia uses both nominating conventions and primaries. The incumbent gets to choose and in the case of an open seat, like every Governor campaign since Governor’s cannot succeed themselves, the state party makes the decision. In this case, the VA GOP decided to hold a convention to protect Cuccinelli, but they have held primaries in the past, like 4 years ago.

  4. Politically for Democrats its good Mcauliffe won. He does have personality which few politicians possess. I am sure he will help raise money for the 2016 presidential cycle, on the same note that is why its good de Blasio was elected NYC mayor. Hope these guys have a positive tenure for their citizens while in office.

  5. I wonder how much mischief voting there would be in a post-recall primary of this importance.
    Trying to influence candidate selection probably wouldn’t matter, since Vinehout would be a good candidate and Burke seems to be finding her way more quickly than I thought. Maybe wishful thinking on my part.
    In my opinion the bigger issue is and will remain media coverage. You can’t get your message out if you can’t get fair coverage.

  6. Stan–Thank you for the correction. It just goes to show that “protectionist” policies handed down by the state party are not always the best.

  7. “Most Democrats, liberals, and progressives are going to vote for whoever runs against Walker anyways—so how about finding the candidate we feel passionate about instead of the candidate we can stomach?”
    How about finding the candidate that’s most electable? The one that will appeal to the middle, where elections are won? Sorry, that’s reality. Don’t join the Tea Baggers in denial.

    1. I don’t believe that there is a “middle” on the issue of Scott Walker. He has universal name recognition and everyone in the state has an opinion. The 2014 Governor’s race is going to be about turn out and election integrity, not the fictional “middle”. How about nominating the candidate that is going to get people to the polls?

    2. AnonyBob,

      You mean electable within the parameters of the contemporary election industry which imposes the belief that there’s no point in wasting any money or effort on eligible voters outside of the known, predictable electorate, and which further evangelizes on behalf of TV and mailers as the preferred voter contact strategy because it costs a lot of fucking money which they get, right?

      Isn’t that what you mean?

    3. Dead wrong, AnonyBob, for the reasons Paul said. In non-presidential year elections, you need someone that encourages casual voters to WANT TO VOTE. When that happens, Dems wins. And when does that happen? When the Dems give a strong, progressive message that drives people to go to the polls.

      It’s no coincidence that Dems did well in 2006 in Wisconsin when the GOP tried to ban gay marriage, because young people turned out in bigger numbers. And when they decided to be “safe” and milquetoast in 2010/ 2012 with Barrett? They got drilled.

      De Blasio overperformed yesterday, and McAuliffe underperformed. It’s not a coincidence.

  8. AnonyBob, are you implying that Mary Burke is more “electable” than Kathleen Vinehout? Based on what? I am really curious to know your answer.


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