Home 2013 races Would Violating Conventional Wisdom Help VA Democrats in 2013?

Would Violating Conventional Wisdom Help VA Democrats in 2013?


( – promoted by lowkell)

by Paul Goldman

Could the next 30 days decide the 2013 Virginia governor’s race?  What follows is hard whiskey, with everyone at the bar having a carry permit. So drink up. Bill Bolling says he will decide whether to run by March 1. Is there a 200-proof political play to maximize his chances of running? There could be. But it would take one of the biggest, multi-million-dollar bets in Virginia political history.

The Conventional Wisdom (CW) says the McAuliffe campaign or the DNC should wait until the spring before making a significant investment in expensive, positive TV advertising. The operative word: positive. But what about negative? The CW stays that would be a huge mistake to start with negative ads before anything else, especially in February. The historical data is clear: with Terry being relatively unknown, such a move will damage not only Cuccinelli but also Terry. That’s clear. But that might actually be the best 200-proof play in recent VA political history.

Here’s why the CW is right about going positive too early: but maybe not on the negative side. The problem with McAuliffe going too early with his positive TV: the result is likely to not only raise Terry’s positive ratings, but also pull  independent, or Democratic leaning, anti-Cuccinelli voters from the Bolling column to the McAuliffe column. T-Man doesn’t want to do this, because it will reveal Bolling as mostly just a “spoiler” with no chance to win, only a chance to make it harder for Republicans to win the governor’s race. Bolling can not run if this is the story line for his candidacy in the media.

In other words: If Terry starts his positive advertising right now, it could have the perverse effect of both helping him (image improvement), but also pushing Bolling so low in the early polls as to force him not to run. This, then, is the quandary for T-Man, who wants Bolling to run, yet likewise wants to improve his own standing relative to Cuccinelli.


It is fascinating that Cuccinelli doesn’t have a flip-side worry. If early positive advertising helps Cuccinelli, then he too will take hypothetical votes currently going to Bolling. This in turn would tend to make Bolling not want to run, which is what Cuccinelli wants. It would also, if successful, make Cuccinelli more formidable against McAuliffe, again what the Republican wants.

Bottom line: Early advertising is all upside for Cuccinelli. But he can’t afford it. What about negative advertising at this early stage? If Democrats hit Cuccinelli hard enough to have the public backlash against both major party candidates, this would presumably drive votes to Bolling. This result is precisely what McAuliffe would want, as it would help pull Bolling into the race — quite a bank shot in the side pocket!

If Cuccinelli goes negative early, it would drive people from McAuliffe and undecideds to Bolling in some numbers, precisely what the Republican doesn’t want. So the K-Man ain’t going negative, no way no how.

Thus the bottom line: Bolling says he will decide to run by March 1. A February attack on Cuccinelli might hurt McAuliffe temporarily. But it will make Bolling more likely to run. That means a sure McAuliffe win if the CW is right about Bolling getting mostly anti-Cuccinelli GOP votes in the end.

Crazy? Or crazy like a fox? President Obama gambled on an early negative attack on Mitt Romney. It worked brilliantly. Would a replay against Cuccinelli also work? There is some considerable statistical logic to suggest it would. But it would be the most expensive political bank-shot gamble in VA history.

  • Dan Sullivan

    Terry has a difficult enough time selling an appealing persona without drawing the kind of attention an early negative campaign would present. It would only reinforce his already too substantial negatives.

    What is most interesting is that in the normal course of their campaigns, the Democratic candidates for both Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General are carrying this water without detracting from a positive T-Mac message and without appearing “negative.” They need only paint Kenny C with his support for the Republican social legislation they are fighting in the real world.

    By the way, I know it is confusing, but alcohol cannot be consumed if you are exercising your concealed carry permit. So, discard the permit and open carry if you want to toast the proposition.

  • FreeDem

    Is a total waste of money.

    Unless the campaign can go up and stay up through November, there’s absolutely no reason to spend anything on positive advertising right now. It’s a waste of money and will fade away quickly in people’s minds.

    The idea that you can’t go negative until you’ve first gone positive is questionable. I keep hearing it as “conventional wisdom” but more often than not real campaigns run an ad that’s 3/4th positive, and 1/4th negative, or some other ratio that really gabs the opponent and sets up the narrative by the end.

    Prediction, the first big McAuliffe ad buy will have a jab against Cuccinelli in it.

  • kindler

    …is to create a kind of “warm glow” effect, a positive impression when people hear his name or see his face.  For that purpose, I think early positive advertising — and/or other means, including clever use of online resources and free media — is important.

    I don’t agree that he needs to do negative advertising at this point — Cuccinelli is doing a pretty good job of digging his own grave.  But he does need to come out and start taking stands on the train-wreck in Richmond.  I see no Democratic leadership in VA right now, other than that coming from Mark Herring.  If Terry wants to lead the state and the party, he needs to step up, find his voice and stop missing opportunities — now.