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Did Virginia Dems Fail to Take Back the State Senate Due to Highly Questionable $$$ Allocation in Closing Days of Election 2015?

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by Lowell

Heading into the November 3, 2015 elections here in Virginia, the strategy for Democrats to take back the State Senate was as clear as it was a no brainer: 1) make sure not to lose any of the seats currently held by Democrats, specifically those of Sen. John Edwards and retiring Sen. Chuck Colgan, both of which were considered vulnerable; and 2) pick up the ONE open seat where we had a serious shot — that of retiring State Sen. John Watkins (R) in Richmond/Chesterfield/Powhatan.

That’s all there was to it, really, although certainly if – and ONLY if – the Senate Democratic caucus (headed by Leader Dick Saslaw,pictured above) had strong evidence all of that was locked down, then – and ONLY then –  they could have justified tossing some resources towards a race not in categories #1 or #2, let’s say a Democrat taking on a Republican incumbent in a purplish/reddish district.

Just to emphasize, let’s list the State Senate races that clearly should have received every last dime of Democratic Senate Caucus resources unless/until they were 100% locked down.
  1. District 21 (Roanoke area), where State Senator John Edwards (D) faced a tough challenge from Republican Nancy Dye and independent Don Caldwell.
  2. District 29 (Manassas, Woodbridge, Dale City, etc.), where State Senator Chuck Colgan (D) was retiring, meaning this was a competitive, open-seat race between Democrat Jeremy McPike and Republican Hal Parrish.
  3. District 10 (Richmond/Powhatan/Chesterfield), where State Senator John Watkins (R) was retiring in a “purple” district, making this the one Democrats needed to pick up, assuming we held all our incumbents, to get to 20-20 in the State Senate. The main candidates here were Democrat Dan Gecker and Republican Glen Sturtevant.
Again, one would expect that 100% of Senate Democratic Caucus and allied groups’ resources in the closing couple weeks of the 2015 elections would have flowed to these three districts. What, in reality, actually happened? According to VPAP, the Senate Democratic Caucus/allies did indeed pour large sums of money into those three races. For instance:
  • Dan Gecker received $180k from Gov. McAuliffe’s “Common Good VA” PAC on 1029/15; also nearly $140k from Michael Bloomberg’s “Everytown for Gun Safety” between 10/23/15 and the end of the election, which presumably was coordinated in some fashion with Gov. McAuliffe et al.
  • Jeremy McPike received $177.5k from “Common Good VA” PAC on 10/28/15 and $10.5k from “Everytown for Gun Safety” on 10/30/15.
  • John Edwards received $141k from “Common Good VA” PAC between 10/23/15 and 10/28/15. Edwards also received $10k from Sen. Donald McEachin, who is Senate Democratic Caucus Chair.
That all makes sense, of course, as these were the three absolutely indispensable races for Democrats to have any chance at taking back the State Senate. Again, every available penny in the closing days should have gone to these three races, unless/until they were locked down. In reality, of course, none of these races were considered “locked down” prior to the election. In the case of Dan Gecker, that race certainly was never locked down, as Gecker ended up losing to Republican Glen Sturtevant. Given all that, then, the question is how can anyone justify the following money that went to OTHER races, besides these three absolutely crucial ones, in the closing day of campaign 2015?
*Dr. Jill McCabe (D), running an uphill, longshot-race against incumbent Sen. Dick Black (R), received $300k (!) combined on 10/27 and 10/29/15 from “Common Goood VA”” PAC, plus tens of thousands  of dollars from Planned Parenthood VA in the final 10 days or so of the campaign. Why? That’s more last-minute money to McCabe, by the way, then went to endangered incumbent Sen. John Edwards, and similar to the amount of money which went to Dan Gecker. Hmmmmmmmmm.
*Gary McCollum (D), also running a race that would have been awesome to win, but was by almost all accounts a longshot and, more importantly, not central to Democrats’ chances of taking back the State Senate, received $80k from the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus on 10/28/15 and $35 from “Common Good VA” PAC on 10/29/15, plus $20k from Sen. Donald McEachin on 10/27/15 and over $40 from Tom Steyer’s “NextGen Climate Action” in the election’s closing days. Again, why was that money not poured into the Gecker race, or possibly the Edwards or McPike races?
*Sen. George Barker (D), for whatever reason (I heard that he was very nervous at polls indicating that his lead might be narrowing), received $35k from the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus in the last week or so of the campaign. In the end, Barker won by a fairly comfortable, 54%-46% margin.
*Sen. Lynwood Lewis (D), who romped to 19-point demolition of his Republican opponent, and was never in any actual or perceived danger, for some reason received $27k and $9k from “NextGen Climate Action” in the election’s closing days. Again, all of that money should have gone to one or more of the three crucial races — Edwards, McPike, Gecker – needed by Democrats to take back the State Senate.
Add all that money up and it’s over $500k to Democrats who either: a) were in no danger whatsoever or b) were not one of the core three races Democrats absolutely needed to get to a 20-20 State Senate, and effective control. The questions are: a) why? and b) would an additional $700k have made a difference to, let’s say, Dan Gecker, who lost by just over 1,470 votes (49.8%-47.1%) to Republican Glen Sturtevant? Sure seems to me like Dems should have thrown everything they had at trying to push Gecker to victory, not spreading it around to people who didn’t need it and/or who were non-integral to the core strategy. 
So, yeah, there are no guarantees in life, but sad to say it looks like Virginia Senate Democrats might have blown their best/only chance to take back the State Senate due to highly questionable resource allocation in the 2015 election’s closing days. Unfortunately, we’ll be living with the consequences of that screwup for a long time to come… 🙁

UPDATE: I took out all the DPVA money that’s listed on VPAP, because I’m reminded that this is basically the party using  its lower mail rate for the candidates, so it’s not really “new “money from DPVA or anything.

UPDATE #2: Oh yeah, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of dollars utterly wasted on a 100% unwinnable race for the State Senate seat of Phil Puckett, in a 2:1 Cooch district, last year. Ugh.