Home 2013 races Four Years Ago: Dems Rev Up to Run for Governor. Today: Crickets.

Four Years Ago: Dems Rev Up to Run for Governor. Today: Crickets.


Four years ago almost to the day, Virginia Democrats like Creigh Deeds were busy – not to mention eagerly – revving up to run for governor in 2009. For instance, check out the announcement above, by Creigh Deeds, from December 13, 2007 (at the same time, national Democrats were salivating at the prospects of taking back the White House, as Bush’s approval ratings were in the toilet bowl and the economy was sinking into recession). In response, another Virginia Democrat running for governor, Brian Moran, responded by (strongly) hinting that he’d be announcing  for governor as well, but not until after the early 2008 General Assembly session. In reality, of course, Brian and Creigh were both running hard at this point in the cycle 4 years ago. And soon to follow were numerous Democratic candidates for LG (Jon Bowerbank, Jody Wagner, Mike Signer, etc.) and one strong one for AG (Steve Shannon).

This time around? Basically, we’ve got the sound of crickets chirping on the Democratic side, even as Republicans galore – Bill Bolling, Ken Cuccinelli, Keith Fimian, Corey Stewart, Pete Snyder, Dick Black, Jeff McWaters, Bob Marshall, Rob Bell, Mark Obenshain, Jill Holtzman-Vogel, and who knows who else in coming months – come out of the woodwork to eagerly throw their hats in the ring, or hint at doing so, for 2013.

In comparison, who’s on the roster for Democrats? Well, we’ve got Terry McAuliffe probably possibly running for governor. We’ve got Chap Petersen and Ward Armstrong mentioned as possible 2013 candidates. In the former case, however, there are no signs of any moves to gear up for such a campaign. In the latter case…after getting his butt kicked (and spending a ton of $$$ doing so) this past cycle, plus pissing off a lot of Democrats with his conservadem distancing from/dissing of President Obama, c’mon Ward, you MUST be kidding! Another possibility for 2013 had been (at least theoretically) Tom Perriello, but he de facto took his name out of contention last week, as he accepted a  great job heading up the Center for American Progress Action Fund (congratulations Tom — smart move!).  

Also last week, PPP came out with a new poll which tested a few possible Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates, including T-Mac, Perriello, and Gerry Connolly. Over the past couple years, I’ve heard rumors that Connolly might be interested in statewide office, but I’m skeptical. First, of course, he has to win reelection to the House of Representatives this year, and while I don’t anticipate that being a major problem in a presidential year, Connolly will need to focus on that, one would think, as opposed to gearing up for 2013. Other than those names? I’m not hearing much, verrrrry quiet out there in “blue” Virginia. Hmmmm.

Why the stark difference between 2007 and 2011? What I’m hearing from people is this: we’ve got a serious perception problem. Namely, there’s a broad perception among Virginia Democrats, rightly or wrongly, that we are in a terrible slump after three straight election wipeouts (2009, 2010, 2011). We also have a pathetically moribund/incompetent DPVA; an ethically-challenged DPVA chair (I hear he’s sold his soul to the for-profit “education” devil for $2-$3 million a year, so at least he’s not a CHEAP whore! lol); and a “minor league system” that, if it were being rated in baseball terms, would be seen as an almost total rebuilding project, nearly barren of talent with major league potential, and not even with any top draft picks, even as the Major League team loses 120 games a year, loses money, and struggles to put paying fans in the seats.

I’m also hearing a broad perception, rightly or wrongly, that Terry McAuliffe would be a weak gubernatorial candidate, that he really doesn’t have his heart in it (e.g., that he’s more interested in running his green car company), and in fact that he’s only “THE candidate” because nobody else is running.

Finally, the perception among many Virginia Democrats is that the “energy” still seems to be emanating more from the other side, even though it’s highly possible that both Barack Obama and Tim Kaine will carry Virginia in November 2012 (of course, the electorate in November 2013 will be much different, and not to Democrats’ advantage, if historical trends hold).

As if all that’s not bad enough, history tell us that if Barack Obama wins the White House in 2012 – a strong possibility given the improving economy and the pathetically weak/extreme Republican field – Virginia Democrats lose in 2013. Hence, the sound of crickets from the Virginia Democratic side, while Virginia Republicans are busy yelling “me first!” and “I wanna run too!” Great stuff, huh? Nope, didn’t think so.

  • So — you’re telling us that Virginia Democrats including the DPVA are doing nothing to crank up for the coming gubernatorial, Lt Gov, and AG elections?    But I thought the DPVA Chairman said he would contest every seat — did I miss something?

  • glennbear

    Tom Perriello’s former district, the 5th, which is the largest district in the state is represented by empty suit GOP Robert Hurt who has family ties to the uranium mining industry. With the election not far off, why is there a similar silence from possible Democratic opponents ?


    appears to me that the dems in VA are asleep. No big shakes in the gov. race, no one is interested much in the Senate race, no one stepping up or even talking about running for Lt. gov. or AG. Have we just given up? Or is there some huge behind the scenes strategy with the powers that be that we are not aware of?

    I mean huh??? Quite the difference from 4 years ago when everyone was pumped. MEANWHILE the rethugs are full steam ahead on all levels.

  • FreeDem

    In that PPP poll, the three tested Democrats (Tom, Gerry, and Terry) perform virtually identical to one another, despite a wide range in name IDs (41% for Tom, only 25% for Gerry). There are minor differences and I’m sure each might have different pro’s and con’s in a contested general election almost two years away, but at this point we’re looking at generic Democrat vs. Bolling or Cuccinelli.

    With the 25 point gap in name ID between Cuccinelli and Bolling, it’s clear that voters already have a clear opinion of Cuccinelli as different from “generic Republican.” Cuccinelli runs slightly higher than Bolling, but the biggest difference is he pushes voters undecided about Bolling into the Democratic camp. And this, based on the crosstabs, seems to be mostly Democratic voters who are undecided in the race with Bolling (they don’t want to make up their mind with low information) who are clearly decided against Cuccinelli because they already have negative opinions.

    I have more thoughts on this but I think they will be too long for a comment. Will post a diary soon.

  • FreeDem

    Decided my thoughts warrant a series of comments, not a diary, because I think these are seeds of discussion that should be discussed and debated in the comments.

    First, although I personally doubt it will happen, there are a lot of people that want Warner to run for Governor. Until Warner makes a clear Shermanqesue statement that he’s not running for Governor, the possibility that he will run hangs over everyone else considering a run. I don’t think Warner will want to make a statement until after the 2012 election, when he’s able to make an objective decision of what 2014 (reelection) and 2016 (presidential) could look like for him.

    My gut tells me that an Obama reelect makes 2014 worse for Democrats (historical trends) and the 2016 Democratic nomination less appealing (historical trends). Running for Governor, building up his resume for consideration as VP in 2016 (still a good boost to name ID even if the ticket might fail) and looking at 2020 (when Warner would still be in a reasonable age range to run) becomes a safer path for Warner if Obama wins.

    If the Republicans win the White House, Warner’s 2014 reelect looks better (historical trends) and the time in the wilderness for Democrats could help strengthen his argument that the party needs a more centrist nominee going into 2016.

    Will the Republicans have an advantage if Bolling and Cuccinelli spend the next two years focusing on running for Governor, or will the long campaign give them more time to tear each other down. We’ll see. Warner running for Governor could certainly help the Democratic Party win in the short term, but the confusion it creates on our side may delay making the difficult but necessary decisions we need to make in order to rebuild long term.

  • FreeDem

    Something that has not been discussed, at least publicly, is why anyone would want to be the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2013.

    Sure, there’s the possibility that the GOP will nominate Cuccinelli and hand the election to the Democrats (I don’t think this is necessarily true, but that’s one argument I’ve heard for one people should be running in 2013), but what will you manage to get done as Governor?

    If the Republicans win the LG, the State House and State Senate will still be in Republican hands. So a Democrat looking at running for Governor will want to find an equally strong candidate for LG. But they would need to do so without stealing an incumbent Democrat from the State Senate, or at least picking a State Senator who represents a Senate district they could feel confident of holding in a special election.

    Finally, even if you manage to win and find a strong LG candidate who also wins, and ensure we keep 20 seats in the State Senate, you’ll be faced with a House of Delegates where the Democratic caucus is virtually meaningless. Either nothing gets done, even with two out of three of the levers of power in Richmond, or you’re forced to spend at least two, but probably all four years, compromising with the business interests behind the GOP (and a good deal of the Democrats too, frankly). The outcome there will be more like the 2007 transportation fiasco than anything that anything new and bold.

  • FreeDem

    I know a lot of activists are very, very depressed after the 2011 elections and seeing the GOP snatch control of the State Senate, but we’ve been down and out before–just a decade ago.

    The Republican gerrymander in 2001 cost us one State Senate seat in 2003, but we were able to come back and pick up four seats in 2007, and came pretty close in four more. We finally took Cuccinelli’s seat in the special. We had a pretty good track record over ten years in the State Senate races, despite it being a Republican drawn map.

    I know there’s a widespread sentiment that the Democratic redistricting of the State Senate was too shallow and it narrowed the number of seats we can compete in. I’d say there’s a lot of time from now until 2015. There problems in Houck’s district and Reynold’s district are more about the bench than the districts themselves, we have time to look for and invest in good recruits (whether we will do so is another question). There are two to three other seats worth watching.

    I know we have real concerns about other seats, especially when we face retirements or people moving to statewide offices, but the demographic trends in most districts are working to the favor of our incumbents. We also don’t know what four more years of demographic changes could mean for other seats that we haven’t been seriously contesting.

    The road ahead is more difficult in the House of Delegates, but it’s hard to do any worse and I think we have good shots at seriously contesting 10 or so in a Gubernatorial year. The same narrative, that we can work to regain seats and look forward to future successes, is true here as well.

    Democrats gained three seats in 2003, four seats in 2005, and four seats in 2007, before the setbacks of 2009. I think steady, consistent gains for Democrats are possible, but it means we’re not going to see the fruits of our hard work until well into the decade. Which is very important when you consider my second comment on expectations of governing.

  • FreeDem

    In my previous comments I pointed out that there’s little to no “pay off” for being a Democratic Governor of Virginia elected in 2013. Under the best case scenario, a Democratic LG and 20 State Senators, you’re still having to cut deals with the Republican House of Delegates and probably a number of your more moderate State Senators.

    In the long term, the Democratic Party will probably continue to slowly pick up seats in the House of Delegates and the State Senate isn’t entirely a lost cause in 2015, or 2019. But given how deep we’re down in the House, this trend isn’t going to be very helpful until 2017 at the earliest. This assumes an average of picking up 6.33 seats in order to get to 51, which is a very aggressive/optimistic/absurd pace. At a more reasonable pace of 4 we’re still stuck at 44 after 2017. But a Democrat running for Governor in 2017 could at least see a chance at taking back the House in 2019 and two years of reasonable legislation.

    If Virginia didn’t have term limits, the temptation of 2013 would be spending four years rebuilding the party, fighting Republicans and presiding over small step compromises that move the state in the right direction. Do well and you could then spend your second term actually building a real legacy.

    Instead, we’re faced with a scenario where any Democrat elected in 2013 will spend four years of hard work rebuilding the party with no reward. In the best scenario he or she would see a Democratic LG elected in 2013 run for Governor in 2017 and finish the job.

    Add all of this up and you can make some interesting hopes and plans for 2013 and beyond . . .

  • FreeDem

    Maybe I should have gone with a diary after all . . .

    With only three statewide elected offices, Virginia doesn’t have as many bastions of independent power as other states do. Across the fifty laboratories of democracy there are a number of minor, but important, independently elected executive offices ranging from Auditor, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, Agriculture Commissioner, and so on. These offices can serve as incubators for future runs for office (See Perry, Texas).

    Virginia, perhaps due to the Byrd Machine wanting fewer independent sources of political power outside of their county courthouse machine and the General Assembly, only has Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General, that’s it.

    Under Cuccinelli there has been a dramatic increase to the public role of the Attorney General. Some might want to call this an unprecedented politicization of the office, but it’s not that different than what Republican Attorney Generals are doing nationwide. Is it unprecedented if anyone else is also doing it?

    I also don’t know if it’s that different than what Eliot Spitzer and other Democrats have done over the years with the Attorney General position in other states. The big difference is Democrats have promoted the position to fight for the people and Cuccinelli and the recent wave of Tea Party republicans are using the office to fight for the powerful.

    And in some ways Cuccinelli’s obsession with the constitution and overseeing the interpretation of state laws is actually truer to the office than the constant campaign of would be officer holders acting like the job is just being one big cop. See the Richmond Times on this: http://www2.timesdispatch.com/

    In any case, Cuccinelli has leveraged this new powerful role for the AG into a bid to take on two-term LG Bill Bolling for the Republican nomination. Unlike AG, there’s not as much room for the LG to expand into a source of independent political power. Most modern Virginia LGs either serve as a soap box for the party out of power (Bolling-Kaine, Beyer-Allen, etc), or as the junior partner of a popular Governor (Bolling-McDonnell, Kaine-Warner, etc). In both cases the power and influence of the individual is less about the powers of the office, but more about the luck of either being one of the few statewide elected officials of a party in the out, or being able to grab onto the coattails of a popular Governor who’s willing to let them share the stage in photo-ops.

    Under McDonnell, Bolling’s elevation to “Chief Jobs Creation Officer” and a host of other “Jobs Czars” position isn’t about the office of LG, it’s McDonnell trying to use the power of the Governor to build up Bolling’s status and name ID. It was the quid pro quo of Bolling stepping aside for McDonnell in 2009.

    Now, with the 20-20 tie in the Senate, the office of LG may actually be relevant for the next four years. Bolling is hoping this helps elevate him further in his fight against Cuccinelli. Any candidate for LG in 2013 is hoping the tie continues and allows them to serve as a champion to their party. A Republican LG serving under a Democratic Governor could leverage the office into becoming the voice of the party going into 2017. A Republican LG serving under a Republican Governor is a vital part of ensuring continued control for the party.

    The same is largely true of a Democratic LG. A Democratic LG serving under a Republican Governor is all that stands between Virginia and draconian laws against women, immigrants, and voters (assuming they can’t push all of that through the next two sessions!). A Democratic LG serving under a Democratic Governor, as I’ve outlined elsewhere, is well positioned to enjoy the fruits of four years of hard work by the Democratic Governor, if they win in 2017.

    But all of this may be temporary for the office of LG. 2015 could shift the balance of power in the State Senate and return the LG to its mostly irrelevant position. The next AG, Democrat or Republican, is unlikely to concede the expanded role that Cuccinelli has built for the office.

    Unless Cuccinelli creates some sort of backlash that encourages everyone to come together to limit the role of AG, I think we’ve permanently opened a Pandora’s Box for that office. Long term, the LG will continue its slide into greater irrelevancy. Frankly it’s hard to justify an independently elected LG in today’s modern era. Mike Signer in 2009 tried to articulate a new role for the LG, but the pathway was not taken. The next LG, Republican or Democrat, may have a window of trying to push for reforms to state government that elevate the profile of the LG, but that’s only a possibility.

  • FreeDem

    Yes, I will finally shut up.

    For 2013, Democrats need to find a candidate for Governor who’s a masochist. Defeating Cuccinelli sounds fun, but once the inauguration parties are over they’ll find their legislative agenda blocked by the General Assembly.

    The work for the next Democratic Governor will be four years of party rebuilding, not four years of building a legislative legacy. Some compromise with Republicans may be possible, but I think there will be a lot more vetoing of extreme Republican legislation than nice ceremonies celebrating bipartisan achievement.

    This means that running a strong bold progressive champion would almost be a waste of a good candidate. A good party loyalist who would be committed to rebuilding the party is an excellent choice, even if they might not be as progressive as we’d hope. What’s more important is a record of competence.  

    But I think this makes the run for LG even more important than some folks realize. A good progressive LG that is able to win would significantly help any Democratic Governor. It could also be all that stands in the way of two more years of Tea Party Republicans should our Gubernatorial candidate be defeated. And if we begin to make up ground by rebuilding the party, a strong progressive LG set up for running for Governor in 2017 is extremely important.

    I’m focusing on a strong progressive for LG, not AG, because of the importance I see for taking back the State Senate through the tie-breaking vote of the LG (now that we’re post-lawsuit). But a progressive AG candidate who takes the expanded role Cuccinelli has built for the office and instead turns it around as a office to promote the people would be an exciting development. There’s a lot to be done on this front . . .

    So, where are the candidates?

  • richmonder

    THis is a depressing thread. How did DPVA end up in the dessert like this?(rhetorical question only). We have several politically active former governors, why haven’t they taken it on themselves to recruit, nurture and perhaps mentor future leaders? Something needs to be done because the system obviously isn’t working to attract the talent that’s out there.  

  • hrprogressive

    Virginia non-conservatives are screwed when it comes to state governance until probably, what, 2017 or something?

    Saslaw, Moran, I can’t name a single Virginia Democrat in office right now that’s actually worth a damn.

    Really, it’s people like us that ought to be running for office. Even though we have no experience, at this point, would it really matter?