Here are a few winners and losers from this Virginia election cycle that I believe are worth highlighting. I’m mostly going to avoid national stuff on this list, just focus on our state. Also, this list isn’t meant to be even close to comprehensive, just some stuff that jumped out at me, so please add winners and losers of your own in the comments section. Thanks.
1. Ed Gillespie: Yes, he lost yesterday, but he was a huge winner nonetheless. At the start of this, would ANYONE have thought that Gillespie could have almost defeated Mark Warner? Seriously? No, of course not. Which means that Gillespie has now gone from being a DC lobbyist and operative (aka, “hack”) to a potential powerhouse in Virginia Republican politics, whether that’s a 2017 run for governor or whatever.
2. Ed Gillespie’s campaign; manager Chris Leavitt; digital director Eric Wilson; Communications Director Paul Logan; etc.: I was impressed, not with the substance of course (typical Republican policies, pretty much), but with the energy, apparently enjoyment of the campaign, smart strategy (e.g., pounding Warner on the contrast between his “radical centrist” image and his actual voting record was super smart, even if misleading and oversimplified; hitting him on the Phil Puckett scandal was audacious coming from “Enron Ed,” but also smart). Gillespie’s campaign seemed to outhustle the Warner campaign at every turn, including on social media, where they were far more active, creative, energetic, you name it. With a bit more money, it’s quite possible that Gillespie could have won last night. Amazing.
3. Barbara Comstock’s campaign: I’m obviously not a fan of Comstock’s, but her campaign did a great job pounding Foust (and not letting him get up off the mat) on his “real job” gaffe. Also, it’s annoying, but it was probably smart for Comstock to avoid the media, given that she almost certainly knew she had a big lead. Other than that, she ran a generally disciplined, professional campaign, with a candidate who was forceful, articulate, etc. Sure, she was wrong on all the issues, plus she lied about who (or why) she voted for in the 2008 Virginia Democratic primary, but you didn’t really expect the “liberal media” (yeah right!) to call her out on that did you now, as Chuck Todd did to Alison Grimes? 🙂
4. Peter Rousselot: I disagree with him on the streetcar, and I disagree with his support for John Vihstadt, but no question he helped put that winning operation together and run it successfully. Whatever else you might think of Peter, there’s no doubt he’s a super-sharp guy and dangerous (if you’re on the opposing side) political operative.
5. Libby Garvey: Again, I strongly disagree with her on the streetcar, but she now just needs one more ally on the Arlington County Board – which she quite possibly could get in next November’s elections – and she’ll be in the “majority” on the streetcar, and possibly other issues as well.
6. Tim Kaine: If there was any doubt which Virginia U.S. Senator is the front runner for the 2016 presidential running mate, there isn’t anymore. I mean, I always assumed Kaine was a better fit for likely nominee Hillary Clinton’s ticket anyway, but Warner’s razor-thin escape from political death last night should clinch it, especially when one considers that Kaine beat George Allen in 2012 by 6 points.
7. Ben Tribbett: He doesn’t have a blog anymore, but his coverage on Twitter (which, by the way, is essential if you’re in the least bit serious about politics) last night of the Warner-Gillespie race was far, far better (more astute, accurate, you name it) than the laughable coverage on places like CNN (Clueless Nincompoops Network?). For instance, Ben tweeted last night, “John King said Virginia Beach is a Dem stronghold again. Someone at CNN get ahold of him, he is looking like a complete fool.” Yep. Also, as a national journalist pointed out to me, Ben was “out there weeks ago, saying the Virginia Senate race was not a foregone conclusion…he quickly looked at the data and was spot on throughout the evening, as he always is.”
8. Widows and widowers of servicemembers: Most definitely deserved.
9. Bob Goodlatte: With Eric Cantor and Frank Wolf gone, he now becomes the most powerful member of the Virginia House delegation.
1. Mark Obenshain: On the one hand, his relatively clear path to the 2017 nomination is now pretty much gone (assuming Gillespie decides to go for it). On the other hand, Obenshain could run again for Attorney General, this time with someone not nicknamed (for good reason) Ken KOOKinelli at the top of the ticket. Of course, Obenshain will still have to deal with his own extreme views, such as wanting to criminalize miscarriages. But still, I could see him better off running on, let’s say an Ed Gillespie/Pete Snyder/Mark Obenshain ticket in 2017 than with himself at the top of the ticket (and god knows who for LG and AG).
2. Robert Sarvis: He ran again, he did much worse than last year, but he may have gotten just enough votes (2.4%) to help Mark Warner defeat Ed Gillespie. For that, Democrats all thank him. 🙂
1. The Warner campaign: I personally like the people who ran Mark Warner’s campaign, but to be blunt…what on earth were they doing? As one Virginia Democratic politico put it to me this morning, “the mechanics of the campaign were, at best, weak…very weak and flat…no energy; didn’t dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’; it was like there was no campaign, no exhortations to activists, nothing.” I agree. During much of this campaign, I kept thinking that at some point the Warner folks would wake up, but they never really did. For instance, why on earth was Ed Gillespie kicking the Warner campaign’s butt on social media? Why didn’t the Warner campaign even have a social media team, like Tim Kaine did in 2012 (and every competent campaign nowadays HAS to have, pretty much)? Why did the Gillespie folks seem to have a lot more signs everywhere? What on earth was the Warner campaign’s messaging exactly, particularly with regard to firing up “the base” (given that this was, after all, almost 100% a “base election)? Why were there never strong, crisp answers to criticisms of Warner on his voting record (“97% with Obama”), the Phil Puckett mess, etc? Why would Warner do stuff like come to Arlington and brag about working with the hated (by the Democratic base) Darrell Issa? I could go on and on, but that would take all day. Just a bafflingly lame, lethargic campaign all the way around, and it almost cost Warner reelection in the end. (P.S. I just saw that Ben Tribbett posted, “I attended over 50 Dem events in NOVA after labor day and never saw a Warner senior staffer at any of them. Totally out of touch.” Ouch.)
2. Warner’s “radical centrism” shtick. I asked him in 2008 what this meant, and he either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. To this day, I doubt Warner could really explain what that means, other than dissing the base constantly (e.g., comparing MoveOn to the Tea Party, mocking environmentalists and clean energy advocates) and partnering with the likes of Issa, etc. Anyway, yesterday should prove that there’s no political upside from trashing your “brand,” running away from your president and party, constantly pushing Republican framing and “false equivalence” nonsense, etc. Also, so much for Warner’s supposedly unique appeal in rural Virginia or to being some sort of post-partisan figure in this era of the Tea Party, and the hard-right Republican Party.
3. John Foust’s campaign: As lethargic and lame as the Warner campaign was, it’s hard to even know where to start with John Foust’s abysmal campaign. I guess we can start with the candidate, who is a good guy, but clearly wayyyy out of his league (in terms of knowledge of national/international issues, ability to articulate…well, anything, etc.) running for Congress. As for the campaign, why didn’t they quickly and forcefully respond to the “real job” gaffe at the time? (note: this is NOT “Monday morning quarterbacking,” as I had numerous conversations at the time on this very point, predicting that the Comstock folks would pound him on this until the end…and I was right) In the end, that’s exactly what happened, and it was a killer. I also don’t understand why there was never a strong, cohesive response to attacks on John’s wife for supposedly not accepting Medicaid patients? It’s not like they didn’t know this line of attack was coming. Meanwhile, the campaign didn’t even TRY to define Comstock early, like last winter/spring, both by seriously “tracking” her during session and also by relentlessly hitting her for her far-right-wing extremist endorsements (by the likes of Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, etc.). Remember, the “field” was cleared for Foust, while Comstock was bogged down in Richmond and then in a Republican contest for the nomination, opening up a clear shot for Foust to try to define her in the minds of voters. True, they didn’t have a lot of money at that point, but they certainly could have/should have used social media and “earned media” to do so. Why didn’t they? Got me. Speaking of money, was this the most cookie-cutter, uncreative, paint-by-numbers campaigns ever? I can just hear the DC consultants now: John, you need to spend the next 9 months on the phone 8 hours a day asking for money, so that at the end we can go on broadcast TV. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Did I mention “stupid?” Why? Because that strategy doesn’t work. Another example of someone who mostly stuck to that script? Judy Feder in 2006, who ended up with approximately the same percentage (41%) that John Foust got last night. Except that Feder was running against popular incumbent Frank Wolf, while Foust was running for an open seat, in a district that went for Romney by 1 point in 2012 (yet Foust lost by 16!!! points). For 2016, it’s time for a brand new candidate (paging Jennifer Wexton?) and a completely new campaign in Virginia’s 10th CD.
3a. The Foust email campaign: This one deserves its own separate mention, as it was SO awful, embarrassing, pathetic, derisive-laughter-inducing, you name it. I mean, seriously, who comes up with this ridiculous, apocalyptic language day after day (e.g., “This is as bad as it gets: if we don’t have the resources to fight back, our chances of winning will drop to ZERO.”)? Perhaps the worst of all came on November 2, touting absurd YouGov “poll” results showing a generic Democrat in the 10th CD supposedly down two points. The email language? “A brand new poll shows Democrats trailing Republicans by just 1 point in Virginia’s 10th district,” so donate $5 (“Need 1 donation from 22201”). I mean, the whole thing’s idiotic, including the “ask” – were they really saying they only needed ONE donation of $5 from the 22201 zip code? And yes, I know the rejoinder to criticisms of these degrading, smarmy emails is that “they work.” But does anyone really KNOW that? You mean, if they sent out normal, hard-hitting emails they’d raise so much less money than with these monstrosities? And even if normal emails raise a bit less money, is it really worth it to send out, under the candidate’s own name, such degrading trash? I vote “no.” How about you?
4. Arlington Democratic establishment: Such a huge “fail,” it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s start at the inaptly named “victory party” last April, after Democrat Alan Howze lost the special County Board election to Republican John Vihstadt. Ben Tribbett and I got into an…er, “discussion” with a senior Arlington Democratic elected regarding his contention that Howze would win easily in November because Mark Warner would be on the ballot, etc. Ben and I practically bit the poor guy’s head off, but the point is, as Ben put it: “What [senior Arlington Dem at the April “victory party”] said is what all the county board members said also — basically…[that] the electorate in November is bigger and less informed and will do whatever is on the Democratic sample ballot…They insulted their own voters in what might be the best educated electorate in the world, and their voters came out and b**** slapped the f*** out of them.” I’d simply add that to assume you’re going to win an election is never smart, and to fail to listen to the message voters send you is also never smart (not to mention that it plays into the image of you as “arrogant, insular, and non-communicative”). Did the Arlington Democratic establishment do that after the April special election loss? Maybe a bit, but clearly not enough. Meanwhile, as someone who volunteered yesterday to hand out sample ballots at the polls, clearly that did not work. Nor did the idea that Mark Warner’s “coattails” would carry Howze to victory. In the end, Mark Warner got 47,643 votes in Arlington yesterday, while Alan Howze received 27,447 votes. That’s not a “dropoff,” that’s the Grand Freakin’ Canyon. Does anyone in the Arlington Democratic establishment have any clue why that happened or what to do about it? Uhhhhhhhh.
5. Alan Howze campaign: Not sure what they were doing all summer, but I did hear a lot of crickets quietly chirping away. Where was the passion, where was the energy, where was the willigness to take some risks/distance Alan from the unpopular County Board, etc.? Got me. It’s sad, because Alan is a really good guy both personally and on policy matters. He would have made a solid County Board member. But now, after losing in 2009 for House of Delegates, and now twice in 2014 for County Board, it’s hard to see a future political career for Howze. Sigh…
6. The Columbia Pike Streetcar: On the one hand, the streetcar project is funded (mostly by state and regional money, plus a dedicated tax on businesses along the Pike), and has all the economic arguments on its side (e.g., it will bring in billions of dollars in investment and far more than pay for itself), it’s obviously not popular. The question is, with John Vihstadt now reelected, and with the prospect of either/both pro-streetcar County Board members up for relection next year (Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada) being seriously challenged, it’s not looking good for this project. It’s very unfortunate, because this would be a great thing for Arlington (and I’m a strong supporter), but if yesterday wasn’t a message sent by voters (who massively split their votes — for Warner, Beyer…and Vihstadt), I’m not sure what was.
7. The pro-streetcar effort to date: What pro-streetcar effort to date? The anti-streetcar effort has run circles around it, kind of like a Maserati racing around a streetcar picking up passengers or whatever. Why on earth is that? For my part, I’ve been telling them for a couple years now that they needed to ramp it up BIG TIME, but they didn’t. Ugh.
8. Jack Trammell campaign: It was always going to be seriously uphill in the “red” 7th CD, but if Trammell had ANY chance, at least to make it close, his campaign completely blew it. Coming out of the Brat upset of Cantor, there was a moment when Trammell was getting a lot of attention, people were flocking to his Facebook page, etc. Did his campaign take advantage of that momentum? Nope. Instead, weeks/months went by with pretty much dead air. Also, instead of pounding Brat as the Ayn Rand-worshipping extremist he truly is, Trammell by all accounts decided to run a campaign that barely mentioned Brat at all (for his part, Brat certainly took some hard shots at Trammell). Over the past few months, I heard tons of stories about the Trammell campaign, none of them flattering. I also watched as Trammell passed up opportunity after opportunity to go after Brat, to launch an aggressive defense of Democratic values, etc. And the result was…Brat 61%-Trammell 37%, which is 7 points worse than Wayne Powell did against Eric Cantor in 2012 (58%-41%). Great, huh?
9. YouGov “polling”: On 10/30, this outfit released “polling” data on every House race in the country. I put “polling” in quotes because the results were utterly laughable. For instance, here in Virginia, YouGov had Rep. Randy Forbes tied, 48%-48%, with an unfunded, unknown opponent. They had Rep. Gerry Connolly winning by 27 points (he actually won by 16 points). And they had John Foust trailing 42%-40% to Barbara Comstock (actual result: Foust lost by 16 points). They also badly missed a bunch of other races, including Virginia, where they had Warner up 10 points over Gillespie from “polling” done Oct. 16-23. Seriously, hang it up guys, or just switch to throwing darts at a dartboard or whatever.
10. Virginia/All of us: The next two years are going to be a complete cluster@#$#@$ with a bunch of conspiracy theorists, climate science deniers, etc. coming in to the House and Senate. Just a nightmare, the exact opposite direction our country needs to be going.
11. Virginia General Assembly: Specifically, for not funding upgrades to the State Board of Elections, which was a debacle last night – down most of the night, super slow, faulty data, etc, etc. This SHOULD be unacceptable, but of course Bill “ALEC” Howell and company have other priorities, like doing whatever their corporate masters tell them to do.
12. Suzanne Patrick campaign: How you manage to take a strong resume like Patrick’s and turn it into a 17.8-point loss in a “plus 2” Republican district is beyond me. But they did it, so as Chris Cillizza likes to say, “Congrats…or something.” Heh.
13. Broadcast TV advertising: I’ll have more on this, but can anyone seriously claim to me that John Foust or Mark Warner did better than they would have because the spent millions of dollars on wildly inefficient, super-low “bang-for-the-buck” broadcast TV advertising? If so, I’d love to see the data backing it up, specifically explaining how that money and time raising the money couldn’t have been better spent doing other things.
P.S. One more loser we could add would be the media, but what else is new? Probably the low point was the Post’s non-endorsement of John Foust, but overall the coverage of the 10th CD race exhibited the usual flaws of the media these days: sporadic, thin, false equivalency/”both sides” reporting, focus on sensationalism rather than substance, etc.