by Lloyd Snook, a Democratic activist an attorney in Charlottesville/Central Virginia
Why I support Tom Perriello, long-form version. I think he gives us the best chance to win in November.
There are three pieces to this analysis.
First, on a purely personal level, I know Tom and like him and respect his clear thinking and clear communicating on difficult questions. He was my Congressman, and I was proud of how he stood in the well of auditorium after auditorium in the summer of 2009, standing up for health care reform against hostile crowds. He ran a principled campaign, and conducted himself in office in a manner consistent with those principles.
Second, on the issues, there are not a lot of differences on the hot-button issues like abortion and guns that the activists have been squawking about. The Governor’s job for the next four years on those issues will be limited to vetoing bad bills; neither Tom nor Ralph will have a legislature who would pass any progressive bills on either issue. So whatever differences purists may perceive between the candidates on those issues, they are meaningless.
Tom — reminiscent of his 2008 campaign for Congress — is running against corporate (and Dominion) domination of Richmond politics, an issue where Ralph’s “me-too” sounds a little weak. Those with long memories will remember that the last Virginia candidate to run against corporate influence (as opposed to trying to solicit their contributions themselves) was Henry Howell, who ran “to keep the big boys honest” in 1973 and 1977. At least once every 40 years, someone should run against the perfectly legal corruption that is characteristic of Richmond.
Third, I think he gives us the best chance to win. Whoever the Democratic candidate is, it is vital that he win, and it would be preferable if he could bring along the rest of the ticket.
For the Democratic ticket to win in 2017, our goal needs to be to get 60% of the Hillary Clinton vote. In the two recent squeakers in 2013 and 2014, we got out about 54% of the 2012 Obama vote. We can win with 55% of the vote that Hillary Clinton got, but let’s shoot for 60%.
I referred to the squeakers in 2013 and 2014 — in 2013, public polls showed Terry McAuliffe leading Ken Cuccinelli by 10% going into the election, and he won by 2.5%. He didn’t get 50%.
When Mark Warner squeaked by in 2014, public polls had him up by 10% or more, and he wound up winning by 17,000 votes, or .8%. He also didn’t get 50% of the vote.
So what happened, and what can we do to minimize the chance that it happens again?
Looking at county-level and precinct-level data, it is apparent that the problem was that precincts that have a heavy turnout in Presidential elections did not turn out as had been expected.
Let’s take the single biggest jurisdiction — Fairfax County — and the Democratic margins in Fairfax County, year by year.
2012 — Barack Obama — 108,500
2013 — Terry McAuliffe — 68,065
2014 — Mark Warner — 53,561
2016 — Hillary Clinton — 197,423
Now let’s look at the statewide margins:
2012 — 149,298
2013 — 58,435 (less than the Fairfax margin)
2014 — 17,727 (less than the Fairfax margin)
2016 — 212,030
Now let’s look at the decline in the Democratic vote relative to the 2012 Presidential vote. In 2013 and 2014, the Democratic vote was virtually identical — 1,069,789 in 2013, and 1,073,667 in 2014. That is about 54.5% of the 2012 Democratic vote. In 2016, the Democratic vote came back out, and Hillary’s total of 1,981,473 beat Barack Obama in 2012 with 1,971,820.
In Fairfax, the 2013 and 2014 Democratic vote was almost exactly the same — about 56% of the 2012 Obama vote. In 2016, Hillary beat Obama’s Fairfax vote by 13%.
In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Fairfax was about 16% of the Democratic vote; in 2016, Fairfax was 17.9% of the Democratic vote (a difference of 39,860).
The same analysis could be done for Alexandria and Arlington. The numbers are smaller, but the outlines are the same. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that the clearest path to victory for a Democrat is to maximize the margin in Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington — to get the Northern Virginia Hillary Clinton electorate to turn out.
This is not news, but the extent to which the Presidential-only voters in those three jurisdictions could swing the election has never been more pronounced. In those three jurisdictions — all of which have a lot of Democratic voters who are very federally-oriented — there are probably 250,000 Democratic voters who are in the “maybe I will, maybe I won’t” category.
The problem with Democratic organizing up there, natives tell me, is that so many of our Democratic target voters are so hard, and so expensive, to access. Many of them live in high-rises that can’t be canvassed. Many have cell phones, and it is hard to survey them and get them into the GOTV process. The result was that in 2013 and 2014, those doing polls of the race had to make some sampling assumptions, with no way of knowing whether their assumptions were valid. As we saw in both years, they were NOT valid.
How, then, to mobilize those 250,000 federally-oriented voters to come vote in a primary, and to feel invested enough in the campaign to come out in November?
This is where I think Tom Perriello has the advantage. Ralph Northam strikes me as the kind of candidate who just won’t inspire those federally-oriented voters to come to the polls. I’ve been toiling in these vineyards for almost 40 years, and I have seen a lot of very nice Democratic candidates who couldn’t get federally-oriented voters to the polls. Tom may be able to. And the primary will be a test. If he wins the primary, it will probably be because he has inspired some of these federally-oriented voters — the ones we will need desperately in November. If he loses the primary, and if we do not see some energizing of the Presidential-only voters, we need to make darn sure we have a better strategy for reaching them than we did in 2013 and 2014.
So I support Tom because I like and trust him; because his campaign against the legal corruption in Richmond is badly needed; and because he gives us the best chance to win.
Please join me in voting for Tom Perriello on June 13.