Will the Republican Party of Virginia’s vote (by a narrow 41-40 margin) this past weekend to ditch their 2017 convention in favor of a primary help or hurt Ed Gillespie? How about the entrance of State Sen. Frank Wagner into the Republican gubernatorial contest, along with Rep. Rob Wittman and Trump’s Virginia chair and Prince William County Board Chair Corey Stewart, into the 2017 GOP governor’s race? Who would Dems rather face in 2017? There are a lot of moving parts, but here are a few thoughts by yours truly and others.
According to the highly astute Virginia GOP activist Steve Albertson of The Bull Elephant conservative blog, “the entrance of a candidate [Frank Wagner] who feels like he could win in a primary but not a convention goes straight to the heart of that divide [between those Virginia Republicans who favor a primary or a convention].” Albertson adds that Wagner’s “record, and his checkered history in dealings with grassroots Republicans, would have made a convention battle an uphill race for him.” But, Albertson argues, Wagner believes “he has a chance when the biggest factor in winning is likely to be the ability to raise money to reach low-information voters” in a primary. Interesting.
Meanwhile, one super-sharp Virginia Dem politico I chatted with today told me he thought that Gillespie would be “unhappy” about Wagner’s entrance into the race, as there is a large voting bloc in Virginia Beach (most of Wagner’s State Senate district) and Hampton Roads that will now be split in a primary. Also, as my politico friend pointed out, Wagner’s background is strong in ways that Gillespie can’t match: U.S. Naval Academy graduate, U.S. Navy veteran, businessman/entrepreneur (co-owner/vice president of Davis Boatworks), longstanding Virginia elected official (House of Delegates and State Senate), a geographic base, etc.
One important question is whether Wagner can consolidate his Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads regional base. As my Dem politico friend put it, “if he can do that – AND he can get Rob Wittman out… then then it could be anybody’s race.” Note that it’s very hard to see any path to victory for Wittman in a primary (he might have had a better – albeit still long – shot in a convention), but he could make it harder for Wagner to beat Gillespie by dividing the “not-named-Ed-Gillespie” vote. In that respect, as my Dem politico friend explains, Gillespie almost certainly benefits if even MORE Republican candidates get in, could be “sitting pretty” if that happens, as Gillespie’s got name ID and could “simply overwhelm his opponents with $$$ and win with 45%” or whatever.
Who would Ralph Northam most like to run against? My Dem politico friend believes – and I partly agree – that “Northam would rather go head to head with the guy from his own backyard [Frank Wagner] without the money – AND get every vote in NOVA – than go against the guy with $35 million.”
On the other hand, though, I’d think that Democrats would love to face Corey Stewart – “if we somehow get lucky” (and Corey Stewart miraculously wins the nomination), as my Dem politico friend puts it, and/or if the Virginia GOP ends up “an even MORE fractured party.” My personal view is that Corey Stewart has a very narrow path to victory, one which involves getting a large share of Trump diehards (and note that Gillespie has, to his eternal shame, endorsed Trump), plus of course kicking butt in Prince William County (a relatively small base, though; I’m skeptical that Stewart has any particular pull in other parts of northern Virginia). We’ll see…but again, I’d love it if Republicans nominated that thuggish, foul-mouthed, xenophobic, out-of-the-mainstream Trump chair.
The other x factor is who fills Tim Kaine’s vacant Senate seat (presuming Clinton/Kaine win, of course). If it’s Bobby Scott, that would likely help rev up “base” turnout – specifically African Americans – significantly next year, which would benefit Democrats greatly. As one highly astute African-American Virginia Democrat told me the other day, “Herring and Northam should be praying Scott is on the ballot in 2017 to bring out the most dependable voters in VA for Dems: AfAms.” As for Bobby Scott, that same person noted: “The districts Scott built his career in are where the blue votes are. When you add Arlington, Fairfax, Roanoke, Charlottesville it gets even better. Scott represented a majority white Senate district in the General Assembly; no one reports that….In a low turnout year like 2017 you can bet Scott’s base shows up. I bet he wins by a larger percentage than TMac, Herring or Northam. And all the national 2017 money goes to him.”
Overall, I’d conclude that a Republican primary SHOULD help Ed Gillespie, as he’s got the most $$$, the most endorsements, and the highest name ID (by far, presumably) given his national profile and his near-victory over Sen. Mark Warner in 2014. Gillespie might very well have won a convention, but it just seems to me that a primary plays more to his strengths, while flaky/weird/unpredictable things can happen at a convention, and who needs that headache? Finally, keep in mind that in a primary, the winner doesn’t have to get a majority of the vote (no Instant Runoff Voting in Virginia, unfortunately), as is the case at a convention, so they can win with 35%, 40%, whatever in a multi-candidate field. It’s hard for me to see how Gillespie fails to do that, but if anyone can stop him, it might be Frank Wagner. Stay tuned…