by Paul Goldman
First, let me give a shout out to Lowell and his piece today on the joke – actually the dangerous – candidacy of Libertarian GUV guy Robert Sarvis hopefully you will read it and learn why I wrote the other week about the telling Freudian obsession some in the media have with this guy. To suggest Sarvis is someone you should vote for as a serious alternative to the major party candidates is a statement that would take a team head doctor’s to examine for several years.
It is absurd on its face. And now, because Lowell has done his job as a journalist, we finally get a column that goes into the guy’s positions on the issues and his background.
My earlier piece was written from the usual 200-proof politics BUT ONLY UP TO A POINT. Today, let me make the further point, which I suspected but now seems to be confirmed: Sarvis DOESN’T REALLY HURT CUCCINELLI SINCE THE GOP GUY DOESN’T HAVE A WINNING STRATEGY. But Sarvis DOES POTENTIALLY HELP OBENSHAIN because there is increasing evidence that on a net-net basis, the Sarvis voter is going to tilt toward Reverend Jackson and Senator Obenshain.
Contrary to the polls on the LG’s race, there is no way a competent Northam campaign can lose to Jackson. Do the polls showing it a tight race concern me? Not yet, since I am presuming the Northam campaign is competent, and because Reverend Jackson has not done the basic things self-evidentially necessary to run a competent campaign. If that were to change, then yes, I might worry a little. But even then, Northam should win, albeit by a diminished margin.
HOWEVER, THIS LEAVES OBENSHAIN VS HERRING. Here’s my concern: The art of running a “free media” campaign is no longer appreciate by campaign types today, especially here in 2013. No one is even trying in that regard, they are leaving it solely to the TV ads, and negative attacks that newspapers pick up. Except for the profile pieces – and even those tend to feature the negative stuff – there is no “positive” vibe for anyone. Even among partisans, the negative energy dominates.
Robb in 1977, Wilder and Terry in 1985, and Kaine to some extent in 2001 were the last to really put a high premium on the positive, with Wilder about the only one to really value the “free media” campaign (although Howell did that in 1971, but it was a three-way race). Otherwise: By and large, the down-ballot campaigns have done what they could with the money they have raised and the coattails of the candidates ahead of them.
Assuming, as I do, that Terry will win by a decent margin, and Northam by a bigger margin, Herring does seem to be in the Baliles 1981 position, where he drafted behind Robb (+7) and Davis (double digits) to beat his GOP opposition (Wyatt Durrette) by around 2-3 percentage points, if I remember correctly. It was the first Dem sweep ever in the modern era. Baliles ran a very solid campaign, and in his day, the media made a better effort to cover down ballot contests than they do today.
THAT IS NOT THE CASE TODAY. A Doug Wilder could not win in 2013, as he could never have used the “free media” to build drama and energy, convincing people he could overcome the 20-point deficit predicted by the early polls. Indeed, he could never have used the “free media” to actually start moving up in the polls by winning votes no one thought were possible.
The latest poll shows Herring virtually unknown going into the last 30 days of the campaign, with Obenshain only marginally better because of his dad’s efforts and power of the name ID in conservative circles. Other than that, they start here in October as if the campaign just began, as if they had not been running for over a year to first get nominated, then elected.
WARNING THEREFORE; The polls show that Cuccinelli’s strategy is a big mistake for three reasons: 1) He has alienated more Republicans than any GOP GUV guy in HISTORY; 2) his campaign totally botched the Jonnie Williams stuff, allowing Dems to drive Cuccinelli’s negatives to RECORD LEVELS for a GUV race; and 3) by allowing the negatives to get that high, Cuccinelli made it possible for Sarvis to emerge as someone others wanted to push as a way to avoid having to tell people not to vote for GUV, since no way would they support a Democrat.
For a newspaper and other venues to advocate not voting for Governor is simply something they want to avoid. Moreover, to suggest a protest vote for an unqualified person is also questionable. Thus, Sarvis is the “issues guy,” the one person talking about stuff, the serious one. It is utterly absurd, of course, but you see why the media has to say it to keep credibility even though their premise – Sarvis is credible – is incredible.
Logically then, from these points, comes this conclusion: if things continue in this direction, Sarvis will stay a viable vehicle for bringing out Republicans to the polls who might otherwise have stayed home as a protest against Cuccinelli. Why? Because if there were only two choices, then I think the RTD and others would have taken a pass in the Governor’s race, saying they couldn’t back either guy. This would have kept people home, as they don’t much know anything about the LG and AG candidates anyway.
WHY SARVIS THEREFORE HELPS OBENSHAIN AND THUS HURTS HERRING: Forget the “legalize weed” voters and the others, they wouldn’t vote anyway. But if Sarvis is getting 6-9%, then most of the extra is coming from folks who, on a net, net basis, go Republican more than Democratic when they vote. The GOP papers and GOP machine, in the end, will go “all-in” for Obenshain, knowing otherwise that they will lose everything, and that it will be the first time since 1970 that no Republican holds the any of the 5 offices elected statewide in Virginia.
Moreover, as Lowell points out, Sarvis is really not a Libertarian, but a front man for a brand of extreme Republicanism that he hides behind by showing pictures of his family to claim he is really the best qualified guy for the state’ diversity. Hardly. He may talk the talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk.
Like the media’s fawning over Bill Bolling – the rock-ribbed conservative who, after being beaten for the GOP nomination, suddenly is for everything he was against for 20 years – this fascination with Sarvis is as phony and as telling. BUT IT COULD PROVE TROUBLE FOR HERRING. Right now, I say Sarvis could add a net 2 percentage points to Obenshain relative to Herring.
Historically speaking, Sarvis should fade as he would normally be exposed in these last 30 days. But the political climate is such that I am starting to rethink my position on this. It still should happen. But what if it doesn’t? This could be the October surprise.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO BLOCK THIS SARVIS EFFECT The answer is clear: Democrats will need to run their first true TICKET CAMPAIGN since 1981. Why? Since then, to the extent there has been any ticket campaign, it has been almost entirely GOTV oriented. BUT HERE IN 2013, I DON’T THINK GOTV is the optional strategy. A TICKET CAMPAIGN AIMED AT PERSUADING swing voters may be required.
The GOP did this near the end of the 1997 campaign when Gilmore and Earley, sure winners, came to the aid of LG GOP guy John Hager, then losing to the Dem LG nominee. They went “all-in” to help Hager the last ten days, helping him win by a comfortable margin.
DEMOCRATS MAY NEED TO DO THIS FOR HERRING. To be clear: This would NOT be a knock on the Herring campaign. Not at all. It would be purely the smart, strategic thing to do given the emergence of Sarvis and also the way lower ballot races are covered today. One has to anticipate a massive GOP effort to save Obenshain at the end. Logic says it will require, for maximum effectiveness, trying to help Cuccinelli keep it as close as possible. BUT MAYBE NOT: They might use all the resources for Obenshain.
My sweep thesis, alone still, remains the same: Terry, Ralph and Mark on top at the end, a 1981 model with a decent margin at the top, bigger one in the middle, tight spread for AG. A win is a win. But the fact a lot of sensible, sane people are going through such illogic to justify a Sarvis vote again tells me the 2013 is as weird as it has been in VA since I guess 1969. So I figure you got to think Murphy’s Law here, and protect yourself.
THE DEMS NEED THE FIRST REAL TICKET CAMPAIGN SINCE 1981 and MOREOVER, it probably needs to start by October 15, not wait until the last week of the campaign.