Home 2017 Races Is This What a Positive Campaign Looks Like?

Is This What a Positive Campaign Looks Like?


by FreeDem

The latest profile of the Democratic Primary from The New Republic makes me question the validity of the Northam campaign’s assurances that it wants to keep the tone positive and focus on the issues.

While both candidates have agreed to the standard pledge not to attack each other during the primary, it was clear at several town halls I attended that the Northam campaign has adopted a somewhat loose interpretation of the cease-fire. At the Mary Washington event in February, a young woman in the audience asks Perriello about his stance on abortion. As a congressman, Perriello had voted to block federal money from going to abortion providers—a position for which he has since apologized. “You used to say that you were not pro-choice,” the woman says, “and now you are pro-choice.” How could Perriello explain the flip-flop?

“I’ve always been pro-choice,” Perriello replies, practically sighing with exasperation. “I marched for Roe 25 years ago. I had a 100 percent naral rating my second year in Congress and supported funding for Planned Parenthood. After Congress, instead of taking a big lobbying job, I ran a progressive nonprofit organization”—the political action fund at the Center for American Progress—“that was central in fighting back against the war on women.”

I notice that the woman who asked the question is recording Perriello’s responses and carrying a spiral notebook. Assuming she’s a reporter, I approach her after the event and suggest that we compare notes. It turns out, in fact, that she’s an operative for the Northam campaign, dispatched to ask Perriello embarrassing questions about abortion. By early April, Northam had made the issue a centerpiece of his campaign, touting his endorsement by the pro-choice group naral and even holding rallies inside abortion clinics.

Gun control has also been a weak spot for Perriello. As a congressman, he opposed a federal ban on assault weapons and boasted about having an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. In January, seeking to bolster his progressive bona fides, Perriello called the NRA a “nut-job extremist organization.” The Northam campaign has seized on the issue: At another town hall, I watch as a woman in the audience challenges Perriello about his views on guns. Afterwards, a veteran Democrat who is not affiliated with either campaign tells me that she recognizes the woman as another Northam operative.

Northam’s allies and supporters “have been raising unfair and inaccurate characterizations of Tom’s record for some time now,” says Perriello’s communications director, Ian Sams. “It’s unfortunate that the Northam campaign is allowing that to stand, and in some cases promoting it themselves. We would much prefer it be a positive campaign where both candidates lay out their positive visions for the state and let people decide based on that. But some of his allies and supporters have taken a different tack, and we certainly wish that the lieutenant governor would ask them to knock it off.” Asked about the town hall incidents, the Northam campaign declined to comment.

Those of you following the race on Twitter or watching comments on Facebook are probably familiar with the negative tone from the Northam campaign. Frequently, Northam surrogates will push out downright lies and misrepresentations about Perriello’s record, knowing that a lie told enough times can be perceived as true. Despite both candidates having a less than perfect record on gun control, Northam’s campaign has waved away questions about his past votes and ducked addressing them at debates. But this hasn’t stopped the Northam campaign from acting as if Perriello’s views haven’t evolved since 2010, a time in which we still had Virginia Democrats like our own Senator, Mark Warner, working closely with the NRA. We’ve seen a similar tactic on abortion, where the rhetoric from the Northam campaign makes me question how he’s able to tolerate Catholic Tim Kaine in the Democratic Party.

The best commentary I’ve seen so far on this primary is the simple take that Northam is focused on the past and telling voters what he’s done, Perriello is focused on the future and telling votes what he’ll do.

The endorsement of Sanders, who was crushed in the Virginia presidential primary by the establishment-backed Clinton? “That’s worth two votes,” Saslaw retorts.

These negative attacks started from day one, with Northam surrogates like Dick Saslaw and Terry McAuliffe going out of their way to personally insult Perriello. I’m reminded more and more of the tone of the 2009 primary, and more than one Democratic activist has pointed out to me that they feel like Northam is following the Brian Moran playbook of trying to tear down his opposition. (Although to be fair one was a former Moran staffer who defended those negative tactics and, not surprisingly, strongly supports Northam.)

With Perriello and Northam essentially tied, the remaining weeks are likely to turn even uglier. This was predicted all along, that unlike early claims that Perriello would never come close to Northam, the energy and enthusiasm for a strongly progressive vision for Virginia’s future would make the race competitive.

“That’s sheer f—ing fantasy. If he had Mike Bloomberg’s money, maybe he could make it happen. But this whole thing is a joke. Ralph will win this thing by 30 or 40 percent.”- Senator Dick Saslaw

The desperation is going to open the door to the Northam campaign making some serious mistakes. Their surrogates feel pressured, just this weekend State Senator Scott Surovell posted an analysis of Google Trends for the primary to try to argue that Northam had more momentum. The only problem was that he misspelled Perriello as Periello. The fact is this metric, which probably is still meaningless, favors Perriello. These sorts of little missteps can add up in a close primary, and we’ve already seen similar mistakes from Northam’s campaign staff on Perriello’s voting record, the role of the Governor in overseeing the pipelines, and even basic facts regarding campaign news coverage.

Democrat Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial campaign sent an email Wednesday that quoted NBC4 Washington journalist Tom Sherwood calling Northam “just right” for the job.

But Sherwood didn’t say that.

Sherwood contacted the Northam campaign when he saw the mischaracterization.

The Northam campaign issued a corrected news release that said “the earlier subject line was not intended to mischaracterize the views of Tom Sherwood. It should have read ‘many believe’ Northam’s progressive record is ‘just right’ for Virginia.”

Sherwood said via email that he appreciated the quick correction by the campaign. “I value my integrity as a reporter and analyst,” he wrote.

Northam campaign spokesman David Turner in an email Thursday downplayed the mistake.

“We literally miswrote a subject line,” Turner wrote. “I don’t get how that is news. Y’all issue corrections all the time I’m sure.”

Turner’s flippant attitude towards mistakes reminds me of Northam’s own response to criticism. He doesn’t recall the bad votes he’s taken, assuring the audience that the claim may be exaggerated. Disagreements with his policy proposals are pivoted to being personal attacks on his service to the country. And he never, ever admits that he almost handed control of the State Senate to the GOP.

As Ben Tribbett wrote during the 2013 LG Primary:

Ralph Northam has been a good member of the Virginia Senate on most issues, and is an excellent fit for his eastern shore/Norfolk based district.  Can he appeal statewide?  I think he could- but only with a very good campaign.  Northam has not had that so far this year, he’s been playing catch up from day one.  Good campaigns require good leadership from the candidates and Northam has not provided that.

When I spoke to Northam earlier this year I told him that I was concerned with his near party switch in 2009.  He told me it was a “mistake” and I was impressed with his willingness to own up to the mistake and move forward.  However, when this issue recently resurfaced, his campaign denied it ever happened, calling it a “Republican pipe dream“.  That is completely and totally false.  Here’s the real story of what happened.

Judges are picked by the General Assembly in Virginia.  After years of being shut out of the process in Hampton Roads, Senator Yvonne Miller had some judicial candidates she wanted to push after Democrats retook the Senate in 2007.  Miller specifically wanted to add some diversity to some judicial benches that had none.  Northam, then a new Senator preferred some of the same candidates backed by local GOP Senators Ken Stolle and Tommy Norment.  When Northam stepped out against Miller– the Senior Senator from Norfolk- she had funds to his hospital cut in the budget.  Northam went into a rage and came to an agreement with Stolle and Norment to pull a surprise resolution on the floor of the Senate to reorganize the Senate, giving the GOP control of some committees and Democrats control of others.  Basically what Northam tried to pull was what Virgil Goode did in 1995.

What makes the Northam campaign version of this story so galling is this did not all happen behind the scenes.  When Democrats learned of this secret plan to reorganize the Senate they adjourned and went into a caucus meeting where Northam told them of his plans and made various leaders publicly plead with him to remain a Democrat.  This is no secret- it happened in front of every single Democratic Senator at the time.  Northam was then called into Governor Kaine’s office where Kaine pledged to restore the hospital funding and Northam backed down.

This story should make anyone very nervous about Northam breaking 20-20 ties in the Virginia Senate.  Northam’s original answer that admitted responsibility was the best response to this.  The new answer that denies it ever happened is a fraud.

As Jesse Jackson said during his bids for the presidency, “Leaders must be tough enough to fight, tender enough to cry, human enough to make mistakes, humble enough to admit them, strong enough to absorb the pain, and resilient enough to bounce back and keep on moving.”

Northam seems incapable of admitting that he’s made mistakes in the past. That’s a worrying trait for someone who’s watching his ascendancy to the Governorship slip away. The next few weeks are going to get ugly.

  • dirich

    Is Northam even a true Democrat?

    • A_Siegel

      Seriously … have to say that this is something that I (hopefully not just for one) don’t find helpful at all. There is no such thing as a perfect person, candidate, or someone to agree with 100% of the time, etc … I am supporting Perriello in the primary. If he is the next governor, I will support him where I agree and nudge / push / oppose him where I don’t. And, you can put Northam in place of Tom’s name even I believe I will have less of ‘support’ and more need to ‘nudge/push/oppose’.

      And, well, I am discomfited in similar ways (as per another comment to diary) to what seems to be overly heavy ‘attack’ style from Northam’s team against Perriello that are at odds with “positive campaign”. Just hope that they are saving some energy (no matter who wins primary) for such engagement with the GOP in the fall.

  • Given the negative attacks prominent Perriello supporters have been levying at Northam, I think it’s rich to be charging Northam’s campaign as being a font of negativity against Perriello.

    However, if Perriello wants to run as the One True Progressive in this primary, he needs to expect some pushback. His votes are his votes. What he did before he took office and what he’s done after he got out are things we can look at, but it’s super easy to SAY you will act in a certain way, it’s much harder to convince folks of that when your record says otherwise, especially when the story keeps changing. Meanwhile, Northam has a solid voting record, and a solid record of action as LG.

    I will work my butt off for Perriello if he wins the nomination, but if he can’t stand the mild heat of Northam fans, he’s not going to be able to outlast the furnace of the general.

    • Hilary Gibson

      Word. My friend posted a radio interview Perriello did last time he ran where he says “I’m anti-abortion”. It’s his voice. Ian Sams jumped into her mentions and accused her of attacking Tom. I mean come on.

      • Jason Rylander

        And Ralph said health care isn’t a right. Come on indeed. Personally, I think it’s more important to focus on their current positions and visions for the future.

        • Hilary Gibson

          1) If Ralph’s sound bite from 5+ yrs ago is fair game, so is Tom’s!
          2) If they don’t want people talking about the time Tom said “I’m anti-abortion”, then they can’t be constantly bringing up the GWB votes.

          Team Perriello is trying to have it both ways and to be honest it makes them look like babies. I attribute it more to them than Tom but buck stops with him.

        • Hilary Gibson

          Oh and for context the incident I reference above about my friend posting a radio interview was back in Jan/Feb before Tom released any policies. The issue was more she posted something factual since Tom was claiming he’d been consistent on abortion and Ian said she was smearing Tom.

    • Jason Rylander

      The notion that Northam has been consistent and Perriello hasn’t just doesn’t bear scrutiny. Northam’s evolution in politics is at least as significant as Tom’s. He has his own votes that he doesn’t want to talk about. I mean, Ralph wasn’t even a Democrat until he ran for office! More significantly, he has current positions that are out of step with a lot of Democratic voters.

      Having attended a lot of forums with the two candidates, it’s very clear that two groups in particular have been directly attacking Tom with the clear encouragement of the Northam campaign. I think it has, at times, crossed a line. But at a minimum, it belies the notion that theirs is a positive campaign.

      I agree both deserve our support in the general. Both are fundamentally decent men. Let’s just hope that in the next few weeks neither campaign does anything to diminish our collective chances in November.

      • GailGD

        Jason, NO ONE IS ENCOURAGING ME. Ask anyone who knows me. I need no encouragement to attack when I think someone is avoiding my questions. I am my own woman and I take orders from NO ONE.

        • Jason Rylander

          That’s funny – I didn’t actually mention you in my post. 🙂

          • GailGD

            But I’m one of the people you think is “encouraged” by the campaign..

          • Jason Rylander

            I’ve been to other forums Gail, and so has the author, but if you want to believe it’s about you …

          • Lawrence Gaughan

            You did not mention me either, but I was attacking Perriello with challenging comments on Social Media. I am mostly just asking for someone to offer me one good reason to vote for him. I have asked this at least 100 times, and no answer yet. I have also gone public about his lack of support for progressive Democrats running in VA and for his and his mother’s rudeness toward me and my family when I was running as a Dem for Congress.

          • This question has been answered over and over again, for instance in the many endorsements of Tom written here on Blue Virginia.

          • Lawrence Gaughan

            I have yet to read a legitimate reason to vote for him. I also asked what sacrifices has he ever made. HAs he ever done anything for the good of our state that did not help him or his career. Someone pointed to the ACA vote. When I was running for that seat in Congress, I mistakenly referred to his vote as an example of conviction politics. Now, I realize that he was not in with the Kucinich crowd that fought to the bitter end for Single Payer before relenting and finally voting for the ACA. No, he was on the wrong side on that issue from the beginning.

          • Lawrence Gaughan

            Most of the time, people reply with a link to the one and only piece of bad press I have ever received in 50 years of life. IT was a personal private matter covered by hack journalism and is totally irrelevant to whether you are voting for Ralph or not. Only a childish insecure person would reply with that link, but it happens all the time on this blog and on liberal sites on Facebook. Great. Also, that article has nothing to do with my Congressional race, because it came out a year after I ran. So stupid for people to post that.

      • Hilary Gibson

        The Perriello campaign doesn’t exactly have clean hands either. They circulated a 25 sec soundbite of Northam from a 2011 debate (note it was 25 sec of a 2:30 min answer) to make him look bad on healthcare. Yes Northam answered the question poorly but he also works for free at a hospital for terminally ill children, wrote and promoted legislation to expand Medicaid in VA, and has fought VA GOP attempts to limit women’s access to reproductive care.

        Tell me- did you think that was positive campaigning on Team Tom’s part?

        PS-again I think Ralph answered that specific q poorly but it was SUCH a BOMBSHELL why did he win re-election? It’s been on the internet since 2011. Why didn’t it come up in 2013 primary or general? Both of which he won btw.

        • My point exactly. Neither Northam nor Perriello are running particularly negative campaigns, neither have perfect records. I prefer Northam’s record, and I feel VERY nervous about Perriello’s record and continuously changing explanation for that record.

        • Jason Rylander

          Well, let’s just be clear – this is the game we all play. One side says something, the other digs up a response, everybody complains about the other’s tactics. Three more weeks!

          • Hilary Gibson

            So you agree it comes from both campaigns. It’s not one sided as this post is arguing.

          • Jason Rylander

            LOL! Well I suppose we could now play “who started it” but we will each have our own views, I’m sure.

          • Catherine Koebel Stromberg

            I know that the pipeline people felt free to boo & interrupt at the debate I went to. They aren’t “operatives” paid or controlled by Perriello’s campaign though, they are activists and voters with sincerely held feelings.
            Here’s the thing: attacking the candidates is OK, attacking their supporters probably isn’t. I’m not going to attack Perriello supporters, I share my thoughts ABOUT PERRIELLO. That’s how you keep it from getting nasty. If Perriello can’t handle being attacked, I don’t see how he makes it to victory in November.

          • Tom Perriello can certainly handle being attacked. This is the guy who faced down African warlords and, in some ways just as scary, Tea Party mobs who burned him in effigy…

          • Lawrence Gaughan

            Unfortunately, I know the truth about Perriello. I will gladly debate the issue in a public forum. He has not returned to VA to run for office for our benefit as Virginians. I would challenge any supporter of his to give me one single reason to vote for him. I have asked this question of his supporters at least 100 times. No answer yet.

          • GailGD

            Perriello won’t answer my questions.

        • A_Siegel

          1. the 25 seconds wasn’t totally isolated …
          2. The Perriello press release pretty surprisingly, in some ways, has material in the opening paragraph that make it clear (no matter what his views/statements/etc were in 2011) that his policy view is supportive of health care access today: “Northam’s spokesman told the Post, “He firmly believes that every American and Virginian has a right to affordable health care.”” THat is how the opening paragraph of the Perriello release reads … thus, clearly, a ‘gotcha’ release from Perriello but … For video/press release, here: http://bluevirginia.us/2017/05/northam-healthcare-privilege-not-right

          • Hilary Gibson

            1. You’re correct-the video the blog post leads with, linked in the press release under 10/26/11, and tweeted by Perriello’s staffers (then retweeted by many more) was 29 seconds long. Good fact checking!

            2. The next word in the quote you pulled is “but” which negates what comes before it.

            So what do you think – was this positive campaigning by Team Tom?

            (And I’m not anti-Tom just anti-Tom deification)

  • Slavin Rose

    The NRA IS a nut-job extremist organization. All of the sane gun owners I know have quit it. Tom tells it like it is.

  • GailGD

    This article is garbage. I was not “planted” by anyone. I am a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a volunteer with NARAL, and I do not work for the Northam campaign or any other campaign. I am not an “operative” for anyone. I’m a 54 year old wife, mother, attorney and activist who has been involved in Virginia politics for quite some time now. Ask anyone who knows me. Ian Sams attacks me on twitter weekly, and Perriello supporters actually BOOED when I DARED to ask a question at an Arlington forum. Several of them came up to harass me after the forum. God forbid anyone challenges their chosen one, the saint anointed by Bernie himself. Let me give you some facts: Perriello has lived in Alexandria since 2011. He did not vote in our 2015 primary or our 2015 general election. Those elections chose our delegate to the GA and our city council and mayor. He couldn’t be bothered to show up. When I asked why he didn’t vote, he used the excuse that he was in Africa, but that was his excuse for not voting in the 2016 primary. I didn’t ask about the 2016 primary. I reiterated that I was asking about 2015 and he refused to answer. His supporters booed, hissed and cursed at me. Why doesn’t this article cover THAT?

    • Hilary Gibson

      Same reason it leaves out how Tom’s team tried to whip up a “scandal” with the 25 sec Northam soundbite.
      It also fails to mention how Tom’s miraculous $1.1m fundraising haul one month in was helped substantially by $980k from three donors.

      It’s a Perriello puff piece disguised as an article about the race.

    • Mary Volak Vause

      Respectfully, I’m a lot more concerned about Northam’s two votes for George W. Bush and his almost becoming a Republican in 2009 than I am about Perriello missing those votes because he was doing valuable work in Africa. Before I get attacked on here let me say that I will strongly support either candidate against Gillespie in the general. But it’s tough for a lot of progressives to stomach someone who used to vote Republican and who as an elected official almost became a Republican. It’s difficult for me to get fired up about someone with that kind of history, even if I would support him against Gillespie in the general election.

      • GailGD

        Respectfully, Northam voted for Obama twice too. It’s difficult for me to get fired up about Tom P when he wrote a letter to Obama and Holder in support of assault weapons AFTER the Virginia Tech massacre.

    • JodyM

      I was also at that forum. I was confused by the booing in the beginning because I wasn’t sure if people were booing Tom Perriello for not voting or GailGD for the way the question was asked. I encourage everyone to watch the video to see exactly how this went down. GailGD asks her question when there is 59:27 left in the video. It’s the second question Perriello gets.

    • JodyM

      I was also at that forum. I was confused by the booing in the beginning because I wasn’t sure if people were booing Tom Perriello or GailGD for the way in which the question was asked. I encourage everyone to watch the video to see exactly how this went down. GailGD asks her question when there is 59:27 left in the video. It’s the second question Perriello gets.

  • GailGD

    FreeDem should identify themselves. Only cowards write under the cloak of anonymity. It’s not like his/her life is at risk. FreeDem should also publicly state what we all know – he/she is a Perriello supporter. The owner of the BlueVirginia blog is a Perriello supporter.

    • A_Siegel

      1. Not how it works — demanding people go public with their identity. Deal with the substance here.
      2. Lowell (BV owner) is such a ‘Tom no matter what’ supporter that he has posted endorsements of Ralph Northam — and ‘promoted’ them to the top of the page. Bring an articulate, thoughtful piece to him related to VA politics and, well, he has been willing to post things from people he disagrees with throughout the years of this blog’s existence.
      3. Yes, I have laid out the case for my support for Perriello … and made it clear that I will support whichever D is on the ballot come November.

      • A lot of people really have a difficult time understanding how blogs work, almost 15 years after political blogs got popular. It’s very strange.

        • GailGD

          I’ll write something when I have some time, and I won’t hide behind a pseudonym.

      • GailGD

        A person can easily ID themselves if they so choose. How do we know whether or not the writer works for Perriello? This is why blogs are not considered credible. In addition, Lowell gets PAID for those “endorsements promoted to the top of the page.” He is in no position to turn down money.

        • False accusation, as usual from Gail. Keep this up much longer and you’re going to be banned. Fair warning.

          • GailGD

            What is false? Are you saying the candidate ads on your page are free? Explain how this works. If I’m wrong I’ll stand corrected.

          • This isn’t complicated, not sure why you’re making it complicated. 1) Blue Virginia accepts advertising, which people pay to run (as is standard with paid advertising). 2) There really is no #2; that’s all there is to it — anyone want to run an ad, just email me and we can discuss. Also note that we have ads running from a variety of candidates, including both Northam and Perriello for governor.

          • GailGD

            I’m not making it complicated. I said “Lowell gets paid” and you said “Blue Virginia accepts advertising.” You are the owner of Blue Virginia, so you get paid for the advertising that runs along this page. I think there may be some misunderstanding. When A Siegel said you post endorsements, is he/she referring to news, i.e. other people’s posts and articles, or is he/she referring to the things that run on the side of the page? I took it to mean that you accepted the ads on the page but upon reread I think he/she is referring to news articles which you re-post or allow to be re-posted. I apologize for my mistake if that is the case.

          • Lawrence Gaughan

            Yikes. Hang in there. It will be over soon.

  • 3rdmilleniumteacher

    The question in this race is not a difference in stated visions, they are essentially the same. The difference is in records and in whether Virginia will be run by the Democrats who live in Virginia or the National Democrats who live in DC and other states. And by the way -Center for American Progress is a Corporate think-tank, not a Progressive one, no matter how they Bill themselves. Look at their funding, staffing and privatization policies.