Home Virginia Politics Learning from the 2011 Democratic loss as 2012 attacks begin

Learning from the 2011 Democratic loss as 2012 attacks begin


by Paul Goldman

Every election has lessons for the next one. Since only future elections can be influenced, such lessons therefore are among the most valuable in politics. So let's see if we try to be the guys at Sutter's Creek panning some precious metal during the California Gold Rush.

1. In terms of the terms of statewide elections in 2013, Democrats are in their weakest position in the modern era of Virginia politics
This is simply a fact of life. This is likely to increase the pressure on Mark Warner to run for Governor in 2013. That would be a huge mistake in terms of his wanting to be President. So I doubt he would do it. This is why the party starts off the 2013 cycle in such weak shape. If Terry McAuliffee weren't interested in running for Governor – and who's to say his business commitments will ultimately allow it, as no one can predict the economy that far in advance – we would not have any candidate right now for any of the three statewide offices.

This is a serious problem that could get far more serious at any moment.

2. Democrats don't have a good statewide issue. It use to be education. I sense we have lost it.
Chuck Robb revived the Democrats with a strong pro-K-12 education platform. Baliles and Wilder built on it. Warner added community colleges, and Kaine pushed hard for pre-K. They all won. Education use to be our issue. But I don't get that sense anymore.

3. The DPVA's silly attacks – and unfortunately they are not alone – against everything McDonnell is a loser's game, has helped the Governor's popularity among independents, and is poised to hurt Tim Kaine. 
I have been saying the DPVA was following an amateurish, sucker's strategy for months, and will state the following without fear of contradiction: it  helped create the climate that cost Democrats full control of the State Senate. If there were more knowledge at the DPVA about how to win statewide elections – there is currently NADA top to bottom – this would be clear. Truth is, despite the criticisms of Senator Saslaw, he did a darn good job at trying to save 21 seats with his redistricting strategy: but for that, Democrats would have lost more seats in the Senate. He made some mistakes for sure, but he came within a 100 votes of being a genius.

As was written a year ago in this space, once Democrats missed their moment when Governor McDonnell left his right flank open with a politically misguided ABC plan – they should have taken him up on his referendum offer and split his coalition, sending him to a crushing defeat – he got a second chance.

By the DPVA and others keeping up a steady anti-McDonnell drumbeat since then, they helped the Governor use this second chance to retool and gain stature.

Result: If Florida Senator Rubio is seriously about not running for Vice President – that's what he has said in strong language – then Governor McDonnell has vaulted into the top spot (also, taking a Senator makes no political sense for the GOP presidential nominee in my view, that includes Rubio too actually, particularly given the public's view of Washington these days).

Fallout: McDonnell on the ticket greatly helps George Allen, who has made a classic blunder by trying to identify more with the Tea Party than with the most popular Republican Governor in the state's history. It reminds me of why Nixon refused ask for Eisenhower's help in 1960 according to the historians.

Tim Kaine can win this race, although it is going to be like WW1 trench warfare. The polls tell me he is the favorite – not by a lot – but by enough. George Allen is tough, and this is his last rodeo unless he can win. Allen hasn't gotten into a 2012 groove yet, still trying to ride that 1990's horsy image. Kaine gets it better, and so George seems retro right now.

Of course, Karl Rove and company will make up for what George lacks with a year's worth of attack ads. Kaine will be helped by a similar Democratic group, so let's not get too hypocritical attacking Karl. The headline in the RTD discussing the Rove AD says it shows 2012 will be "ugly." You think?

That's why the DPVA and Democratic leaders have to figure out apositive strategy for working publicly with the Governor in  2012. Otherwise, you are going to play into Rove's hands, and McDonnell's frankly. We should also not be worried about trying to help the President govern. Independents want results, not partisan rhetoric.

The idea that Mark Warner can sprinkle fairy dust on people and they are magically elected is not the case; his popularity is not transferable to another candidate, outside of the Democratic base.

LESSON: Like singer Lorrie Morgan sang, what is there about "no" that the DPVA doesn't understand? Like it or not, Virginia Democrats are too weak to follow a 24/7 attack McDonnell, or even George Allen, strategy. They need to up their positive image before going there.

4. The idea the 2011 shows the President can't win Virginia – floated today in the Wall Street Journal – is absurd.
It doesn't take Paul Tully, the late DNC guy who was probably the top voter analyst, to know the results in certain key counties this past Tuesday were not optimal for the President. But outside of this "brilliant" insight, the 2012 election will be run on an entirely different plane. Moreover, had Senator Houck received a few more votes, no one would pay such columns any mind.

Rural Virginia is tough sledding for any Democrat right now, not merely the President, the same for outer burbs everywhere. But Obama has a clear path to victory in Virginia, unlike say North Carolina or Florida, among the swing southern states. It will not be the easy cakewalk as in 2008. It also means Democrats might not agree with him on all things. But as Ward Armstrong discovered, in politics you often hang separately if you fail to stick together.

Brian Moran did what he could as DPVA chair.

Brian got elected from a safe House of Delegates seat in his brother's hometown and then thought he could be the first person in state history to go directly from that body to the Governor's Mansion. That he raised all the money he did, and had a shot at being nominated, is amazing to me in all honesty. He is a talented guy but not necessarily for what he aspires to be. Moreover, his critics, who think a Democratic Chair can create a GOTV machine to win races otherwise not winnable, is amateur hour in the 21st century. The fact is, campaigns rely on their own expertise, not that of the state party in such things.

The DPVA, given the situation right now, has to rethink its role going forward in terms of reality. We don't have a Democratic Governor, we don't control either body of the General Assembly. We couldn't field a ticket right now for the 2013 election. Right now, the DPVA has to get out of a mechanical mode and get into the guts of politics, which is substance. We need to figure out the kind of platform it will take to win in 2013.

5.    I like Dick Saslaw. But someone not from NOVA as a leading spokesman makes sense in 2012.
Brian is from NOVA, Saslaw is from NOVA, Warner is from NOVA, and there is a chance the House Democrats might chose someone from NOVA as Minority Leader.

We need a better geographic balance.

6.  The Party, the Caucus, is wasting too much money.
We are not spending smart. Given all the money raised and spent, the campaigns should not be so cookie-cutter, just more and more of the same as if something becomes more believable the longer and louder you say it. It will also become harder now to raise money.

7.  With Republicans now able, in theory, to pass whatever they want through the General Assembly, this will mark the beginning of the Democratic comeback.
This is crucial to remember. The 2013 election could be a referendum on one-party control here in Virginia. This is why Democrats need to make sound, sensible proposals, not just attack. The temptation will be to go into all-out attack mode since it is a seeming freebie. That isn't going to impress voters in 2013.

Remember this also: With the Democrats no longer in the majority, this may convince Senator Colgan to retire early. So, our numbers could go further down. But either way, the climb back starts now and this is an opportunity to rethink, refresh, and let some new energy into the spotlight.

  • truthteller

    1) Doesn’t DPVA have a role to play with message? How did they or didn’t they carry it out? I didn’t see any strong messaging efforts on the stakes of the election and divided government from DPVA…. Don’t they bear some responsibility as the messaging apparatus for the state party?

    2) Also, what to do about moribund local committees such as Loudoun? Loudoun’s chair ousted Stevens Miller, who then turned on LCDC and endorsed against two Democratic incumbent supervisors. Dems lost EVERY supervisor position in Loudoun including the two slots they still held on the board and one school board slot. Infighting certainly impeded Kondratick who narrowly won the Loudoun part of his district but not by enough and Shawn Mitchell’s campaign. Even Mark Herring, challenged by the inept Patricia Phillips who ran an ad honoring soviet veterans, only won by 7 points. This despite a gaffe prone Loudoun committee. Anthony Bedell already resigned from the Fairfax GOP after a similarly devastating series of results. So where is Moran and company in demanding the immediate ouster of the current LCDC Chair? This also underscores that DPVA needs to sit on committees that were busier with infighting such as LCDC and VA Beach than with electing Dems, that such behavior will not be tolerated.

    3)Candidate recruitment has been awful. 52 or 54 candidates for the house of delegates TOTAL? Only 3 GOP incumbents Watkins, Newman and Vogel challenged at all in the Senate? GOPers in 55% Dem performing districts such as Rust’s UNCHALLENGED? Don’t we bear some responsibility for this and doesn’t DPVA have a role to play in reversing this failure?


    this run down. Depressing but good.


  • truthteller

    to demand power sharing in the Senate and to deny quorum to try to get it? When Beyer was Lt Gov, the Dems agreed to powersharing so can’t the Dems demand the same of the GOP based on precedent and refuse quorum as leverage?

  • leedynamo

    Goldman criticizes DPVA but does not hold Moran accountable.  He makes it sound like Brian’s ambitions justified him having the job.

    DPVA is an Old Boys & Girls Club.  That should end.

    The worker bees should all go on strike.  Or something.

    If everyone goes on strike, maybe something will happen.

    Blow it up.  Clean house.  Hire some organizers & work the whole fucking state.  Blast the Four Virginias to Hell.  

  • commentator1

    I have to agree that the DPVA is an old boys and old girls club. I have been hearing that for years. When you have an organization like that you have something close to a Democratic oligarchy. These folks make sure everyone else is locked out to preserve their power. They should all resign and make room for people with real on-the-ground experience and a long view of history. Perhaps the grassroots should start a petition to force them to resign.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    As long as there are so many weak local committees, there will continue to be little or no ability to attract candidates for office. I firmly feel that finding candidates is a local responsibility but locals need training in where to look for candidates. That training is a responsibility of the DPVA and has been absent for eons.

    We need to face this fact: When a party acts like it needs life support to survive, it becomes more difficult to attract potential candidates. The Republicans in Virginia were once in even worse shape in Richmond, but a guy named Vance Wilkins devoted himself non-stop to finding candidates to run as Republicans. If there is one person responsible for the growth of the GOP into Virginia’s majority party, it’s Wilkins.

    I agree that there is no message coming from the DPVA or anyone else that answers the most important question a potential voter asks, sometimes just to him or herself: “Why should I vote for the Democratic candidate?” Of course, if there is no Democrat on the ballot, that becomes moot!

    I disagree that we Democrats have lost the education issue. The Republicans have no education plan except to privatize schools. Especially with the cuts by the state in all levels of education, we can regain that issue with smart policies.

    We have other issues as well: transportation (although McDonnell co-opted that one somewhat by using “borrow-and-spend”), and the shifting of enormous cosst to localities, along with more unfunded mandates (this potentially is our best issue, especially now that the GA is effectively controlled by the GOP).  

    Democrats in Virginia don’t seem to know how to act effectively as a minority party. I’m betting that the Republicans don’t know how to shift to the middle where most Virginians reside and will cause great backlash as they try to satisfy their right-wingers who never learned to play well with others. As extreme ideas sail through the GA, the start of the democratic revival, as you say, may begin right there.  

  • Teddy Goodson

    have been mentioned by truthteller, who is absolutely correct. Far too many committees are barnacle-encrusted, hidebound, clique-ridden—- the private turfs of GOBs and GOGs without end, who are willing, even eager to see a Democratic candidate lose if they regard that candidate as not one of them, or simply not one of their pets. The idea is turf-protection, and the perpetrators imagine such a defeat will prove that only their favorite can win, and they will make up the loss at some future date with a candidate more to their liking. This makes for a complete failure, and only results in the diminuation of their precious turf in the long run, not to mention further weakening the Democratic Party, and entrenching a Republican in the office in question.

    Of course, we are talking about volunteers here, and it is never easy to deal with a volunteer-run organization, especially one with a long history. Mr. Goldman appears to be advocating improvement and reform from the top down, utilizing the already-entrenched and experienced elite, under the guidance of Senator Warner because he is Virginia’s US Senator, which quite ignores the senior US Senator, Webb (who, not coincidentally, defeated the Establishment favorite in a tough primary, and won his seat primarily with the help of grassroots volunteers).Real reform from the top down is very nearly an oxymoron.

    Personally, I doubt the system can reform itself from the top down. It will have to come from the grassroots up, and a good place to start is with the local committees, whose new leadership can then participate in the state-wide party organization repair.

  • leedynamo

    Did you read Peter’s excellent piece “Dr” Goldman?

    Brian is not the main issue.  But, he is AN issue.

    The main issue is that the whole thing stinks.  I have only watched it for almost 20 years.  I know all about you too.

  • leedynamo

    That I do not see what harm there would be in a public confrontation.



    B L O W     I T      U P.

  • kindler

    This commentary is insightful on the overall mechanics of the problems of VA Dems, but you refuse to hold anyone accountable here.   A party collapse of the magnitude you correctly describe here must be due not simply to larger trends but also to a failure of leadership and imagination at multiple levels.  

    The party has failed to tap the energy and ideas of the grassroots and so is simply imploding. It and its leaders must acknowledge and analyze their failures before they can move beyond them. Peter R is much closer to the mark on this point.    

  • Will Radle

    write off most of Virginia as unattainable for the Democratic Party. That’s ridiculous!

    I just ran as an obscure first-time candidate, as an Independent with $102 as my total budget against a 24 year incumbent with over $1,000,000. Thousands of voters, including Democrats, Independents and Republicans, voted for our campaign. How do we know? They told us.

    Take the message, provide funding support and win! People do not want to divest from education. Yet, Republican politicians are bragging about it.

    Look at what has been happening to families in Virginia and take a positive stand on our behalf.

    A. Will Radle, Jr.

    Creating a Culture of Listening


  • Dave

    Your premise that Moran did all he could with what he had is absurd. You seem to give him a free pass on two presumptions: 1) that the goals outlined by Peter Rousselot and others are unachievable, and 2) that DPVA Chair is some kind of ceremonial position.

    As to (1), recall that in running for Chair, Moran essentially regurgitated Peter’s platform and sold it as his own. Thus his failure to achieve those goals is, in fact, a failure to achieve his own goals, as stated.

    And (2), the Chair’s position is the Chair’s to make it what it is. Perhaps if we didn’t have a part-time Chair in it for only the “glory,” then the position could be a platform for real change. Instead, we’re stuck with somebody half-assing it. If you treat it as ceremonial, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Which segues perfectly into my final point – VA state-level campaigns are only self-sufficient because they have to be. It’s a chicken and egg situation. If we had a reliable and continuous coordinated effort, statewide, campaigning in VA would be easier and cheaper, and it would encourage more candidates to run even in tough districts. Look at Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax. Campaigns run under those committees are like well-oiled machines, and it’s because there’s a concerted effort at continuous coordination. We have nothing like that statewide, not because it’s impossible, but because we’re not doing it right. Campaigns have to be self-reliant because DPVA isn’t reliable.

  • Glen Tomkins

    You can have seven, as author of the post, I’ll limit myself to two.

    Your point 5 makes some superficial sense.  But I remember a few years ago that that sort of thinking led me, as a NoVA Dem, to support Creigh Deeds to be our gubernatorial candidate.  Look, let’s go with whoever is best, let’s not try for some transparently manipulative play for downstate votes, that won’t work because it’s so transparent that downstate voters won’t be fooled.  They’re not fools downstate any more than they’re fools in NoVA.  

    In particular, when we’re talking legislative leadership, we want stability, we want someone who will be there cycle after cycle to provide continuity, and who doesn’t really have to worry too much about his or her own chances of re-election, so that he or she can focus on what the caucus needs.  Do we have seats like that anywhere but in NoVA?

    That’s just a tactical point.  In wider terms, I think your point 7 is the key point in this situation, and should supercede points 1-4.  To a large and frightening extent, our side’s fortunes are in the hands of the other side.  Either McDonell in particular and their party in general will respond to controlling the trifecta here in the Commonwealth in a careful, moderate and disciplined fashion, or they will let crazy Bob Marshall set the agenda, with their Senate and their governor passing and signing anything that their House sends up, and that House sending up the same raft of crazy it has the past two years when the D-controlled Senate killed 99% of it.  

    If the former, yes, our prospects don’t look good.  The best we would have to offer would be marginal policy differences, because under this scenario, the Rs only legislate a program that is marginally different from ours.  So, no, not much prospect of a dramatic or quick rebound.

    If the latter, yes, there will be tons of very dramaticly foolish and destructive nonsense coming out of R dominance of the trifecta.  Think AL or AZ, only on steroids.  So yes, they will alienate tons of voters who don’t pay much attention to our side when we point out how radical McDonell and the Rs are in theory.  If they try to put that crazy stuff into practice, then that message of ours will resonate.

    No, I’m not trying to push some delusional line that our side really won last Tuesday, because now the Rs are free to let their crazy show.  They’re also free to get it right and control their crazies.  I rather doubt they will do that very completely or readily.  But no doubt they are the ones with more freedom of action as a result of the election, and I would much prefer that our side was in that position, and the other side were the ones whose only good prospect for quick gains was if our side messed up and abused our freedom of action.    

  • hereinva

    So lets say we kept the majority in the senate..Dems would still be playing defense..”block that bill” in the senate. I certainly appreciate their ability to do so..given the bul’oney bills that are introduced in committees. But really need to send message of what we are for and not just against. Congress is a perfect example of the “just say no” approach..and look at the ratings there.

    Need to boost Grassroots/Local Committees

    Houck and Reynolds lost by small margins. In the case of Houck, he out-raised his opponent and had the endorsements of many prominent local organizations and newspapers. He lost in his home district of Spotsylvania and at precincts that he had previously won. Is re-districting to blame? It may have had some impact but the opposition also had a base constituency “on fire”(anti-choice conservatives).

    In neighboring Stafford County, local Stafford Democratic BOS candidates lost..so with the exception of Senator Puller,(who lost all her precincts in Stafford) Stafford is drowning in “red”, all three state reps, 2 out of 3 State Senators, 6 of the 7 BOS (one is an independent), and all constitutional officers.

    If you want a stronger Virginia Democratic Party..you need strong active local committees. With the coming re-orgs..its an opportunity to re-group and re-fresh the VA Democratic Party.  


  • sbroy2013

    I was one of the THREE Democrats to step up to the plate and challenge a Republican Senator in 2011. I took on Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel, without any resources or support from the DPVA. I did not accept one penny from any special interests, lobbyists, PACs, or Big Business/Corporations.

    In total, I raised a whopping amount equal to less than 1% of what Senator Vogel spent on the race. I ran in a very heavy Republican stronghold, which saw overall very low voter turnout and around 68% of those identified themselves with the Republican Party. I ended up with a HUGE 25% of the vote, which may not impress many at first glance, one should dig a little deeper to see how that 25% was quite an accomplishment.

    It forced Vogel to spend close to $500,000 of her war-chest and at least allowed for a Democratic voice to be a part of the debate.

    The point that I am getting to here is that we seem to be focused on standing our currently portrayed “party leaders” in a circle and accepting those individuals within that circle as the ONLY hope and FUTURE of our party in Virginia.

    That mentality shall continue us down a path of self destruction.

    It was mentioned that, “we would not have any candidate right now for any of the three statewide offices.”

    I am prepared for being labelled “crazy” and “unelectable.” The criticism will continue with those who believe that this guy hasn’t “paid his dues,” or doesn’t have the “chops” for such a move.

    Here is the deal… Please add a SECOND or even the FIRST declared candidate for statewide office in 2013. My name is Shaun Broy and I officially announce my candidacy to become the next Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.

    The door is wide open for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate and fight to return the Democratic Party of Virginia back to where it rightfully belongs, the people.

    “The climb back starts now and this is an opportunity to rethink, refresh, and let some new energy into the spotlight.”

    I promise that you will have plenty of time to become more familiar with who I am and what I represent. I respectfully ask that you pause before reacting and let me prove whether or not I have the “chops” necessary to become a viable candidate for the nomination, and an electable candidate statewide in 2013.

    We have only just begun…


    Shaun Broy

  • Progressive86

    My first assumption is that most of the responders to this post are 30+. If I’m incorrect, please let me know.

    I am under 30 and I see my generation as almost entirely turned off from the political process, especially at the state level. So my question to Democratic Party strategies, pro or amateur, is how do we turn the youth of VA on to VA politics? I heard talk about the future leaders and so forth while also reading about the sorry state (in most posts) of the Democratic Party in VA. How will these young leaders be utilized by the Democratic Party in a winning way? I am still thoroughly upset that Sen. Steve Martin and his lap-dog Roxanne Robinson ran unopposed in my district, among other things. I agree, we’re short on answers, so I’m all ears (or eyes?).