Before I start, I just want to make clear that this is my own, personal endorsement, based on my own, independent observations and analysis of the Virginia Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, my own interviews of the candidates, etc. With that, here’s my reasoning for endorsing Aneesh Chopra for the 2013 Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.
1. I interviewed both Aneesh Chopra and Ralph Northam. Both candidates did well, and I enjoyed talking to them both, so it is not a “negative” in any way against Ralph Northam that I was highly impressed with Aneesh, both in terms of being a strong Democrat, but also in terms of his detailed knowledge of the issues facing Virginia. That was an area, honestly, where I had some doubts, given that Aneesh had never served in the Virginia General Assembly. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to ask him where he stood on a wide range of legislation that was being debated in the General Assembly at the time. His answers were excellent, but as I wrote at the time, “What I found most impressive here was that Aneesh – who isn’t a member of the General Assembly – was familiar with every bill I mentioned, didn’t even need me to read a full description before he answered immediately ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’” Very impressive. Also highly encouraging was that the answers were all “correct” from a progressive, Democratic perspective, again without any hesitation on any of them, and without any prompting of any kind. Again, very impressive.
2. To date, I’ve been highly impressed with the Chopra campaign, pretty much in every way – management (a very well-run campaign), fundraising (he’s kicked butt on this front), social media (he’s used it in creative and effective ways), field, etc. In contrast, the Northam campaign has been…well let’s just say a bit shaky. After getting off to a late start (Sen. Northam initially wasn’t planning to run, then changed his mind and decided to do so), the Northam campaign’s been significantly outraised – and I’d argue outhustled – by the Chopra campaign. I also hear they just fired all their field staff, they’re on their second campaign manager in a couple months, and let’s just say I’ve heard other stories about the state of the Northam campaign the past couple months that don’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Bottom line: given that we want the strongest candidate to go up against the Republicans this summer and fall, to me the quality of the campaigns is a significant reason in and of itself to endorse Aneesh Chopra over Ralph Northam for the nomination. (Note: for more on this topic, see the astute Virginia Democrat/political strategist Danny Barefoot’s endorsement of Aneesh here, particularly paragraphs 3-6).
3. Clearly, one of the keys to Democrats winning this November will be changing the electorate from a typical odd-year/off-year Virginia electorate (skews older, whiter, and more Republican). To do that, we need candidates who first and foremost understand the importance of changing the electorate more towards the “Obama coalition.” Aneesh Chopra clearly “gets it” on that front. As he said in our interview, “the formula is clear” – we need to turn out the coalition that came out for President Obama and Tim Kaine in 2012. Why he feels he can do that is because: a) as he says, “I reflect the values of the 2012 coalition that reelected President Obama;” b) he understands that “it’s also about smarter campaigning, as we did in 2012,” including the use of new media and today’s cutting-edge communications tools and technology (note: Aneesh is an expert at this stuff) to reach voters; and c) because he believes Obama voters need to see a candidate who reflects their values, and he believes (and I tend to agree) that he is that person.
4. Both candidates are qualified for the job, they’ll just bring different skill sets and emphases to it. In Aneesh’s case, he served in the Kaine Administration (as Secretary of Technology) and in the Obama Administration (as the country’s first Chief Technology Officer). He wasn’t just a “techie,” though, in the sense of only caring about tech for tech’s sake. Instead, Aneesh employed technological tools for the purpose of improving people’s lives. For instance, at a time when equal pay for equal work legislation appeared stalled out in Congress, Aneesh worked with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to help open up salary data and make it easily accessible, so that women anywhere in the country who felt they were being paid less than a man for the same type of job could have the information they needed to challenge that unfairness. Aneesh also worked to make it easier for firefighters, police officers, and other first responders to communicate with each other over the same frequency; not something that was necessarily a simple matter. I could also see Aneesh’s skills coming in handy with regard to setting up health care exchanges in Virginia, or perhaps in something like electronic health care records. The point is, technology is powerful if used to help improve people’s lives, and Aneesh Chopra not only understands that, he’s an expert in making it happen. I find that exciting.
5. The last point is somewhat of a “ding” at Sen. Northam, but I was not at all pleased with his February 21 appearance on the John Fredericks Show. First, note that John Fredericks is a diehard Republican, very conservative, planning to vote in the Virginia Republican convention, etc. So, the first thing that struck me was at about 38 minutes in. Fredericks went out of his way to praise Northam as “moderate” and “centrist,” which is not in and of itself a problem, but he followed that up by contrasting Northam to what he (bizarrely) called the “far-left-wing candidate,” Aneesh Chopra. Of course, that’s utterly absurd Republican framing of Democrats in general – we’re all “far left wing” supposedly. As for the LG primary, to date, I haven’t heard of a single policy difference between Sen. Northam and Chopra, so who knows what Fredericks was saying, but for sure he was completely wrong. The problem is, Sen. Northam not only didn’t push back against that absurd characterization of a good, mainstream Democrat, but he said “I appreciate that question.” Ugh. Making matters worse, at around 42:40, Fredericks talked about how “really fired up” he was to vote in the Republican convention on May 18, and then just a few weeks later how he – and “Republicans like me” – were going to vote AGAIN in the June 11 Democratic primary. Clearly, that’s legal, but it’s totally not cool for a diehard Republican who is 99.999999999% likely to vote straight Republican in November to be messing with the Democratic Party’s primary. And a Democratic candidate for statewide office should say exactly that. Instead, Sen. Northam’s response was…well, I’ll just quote it verbatim and let you decide what you think:
Northam: “That’s great John, you know what, I look forward to it. If you want, I will come up and pick you up and I’ll take you to the polls. I think it would be a good day for both of us…”
Fredericks: “I’m going to take you up on that…Ralph Northam going to pick me up and my family, right?”
Northam: “That’s right, yes I will, we can have a van, bus, whatever you need, we’ll come get you.”
Fredericks: “I’m going to vote in the Democratic primary, I’m getting picked up, my whole family on June 11 by Dr. Northam; we’re going to take pictures, put it on the internet, I’m so excited I’m beside myself.”
So, what’s the answer a Democratic candidate should give? How about, “You know, John, I welcome any Virginian who believes in moving our state forward, who opposes Ken Cuccinelli’s extreme/divisive agenda, and who is sincerely open to voting Democratic this November, to come vote in our primary. If not, I’d say that they should stick to the Republican convention and not interfere with our process of selecting our party’s nominee.”
Anyway, I don’t want to end this on a negative note, as my endorsement of Aneesh Chopra is overwhelmingly a positive one, FOR Aneesh, and would have happened even without item #5 above, for all the reasons I’ve discussed. In sum, if you want a dynamic candidate who can help bring out the “Obama coalition” voters, who will bring a unique and impressive skillset to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, who strongly believes in moving Virginia forward, and who has been running a top-notch campaign during the primary that will carry over into the general election campaign, then I encourage you to vote for Aneesh Chopra on June 11. Thanks, and go Aneesh!