by Paul Goldman
First, my condolences to Anita Kumar of the Washington Post, for being forced to write her story today; it is not fair to make a good reporter pen such a silly, rookie article. The premise of the article is that since Bill Bolling made such a “selfless” decision to step aside and let Bob McDonnell run for Governor, why isn’t Ken Cuccinelli the same kind of guy?
Okay, maybe it was only a subtext, but either way, it is silly to the max: Bolling didn’t challenge McDonnell in 2009 because he was “selfless,” but because the LG knew he was going to lose if he did!
In fact, it was a smart decision politically on the part of “Bolling Alone” (my nickname for him) not to challenge “His Veepness” (that would be McDonnell) for the top spot on the GOP ticket.
At that time, of course, McDonnell and Bolling didn’t know that Ken “Have Brief, Will Travel” Cuccinelli (the AG’s nickname in honor of the classic Western from the early days of TV) would be getting the party’s nod for the third man on the 2009 ticket.
Back in 2009, Mary Sue Terry decided against challenging Doug Wilder for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination because, even if she won, it would have been a guaranteed lose in the general election.
Now, Bolling Alone has a lot of good qualities, but playing Mother Teresa isn’t one of them.
He and the other Duck Pins on his Bolling team are understandably mad with Have Brief, Will Travel for not being a dutiful little guy and knowing his place in the Bolling Alley.
But whining isn’t the best quality to advertise in politics, at least not generally speaking.
Truth is: I am not sure Bolling Alone is going to be helped in the long run if he and “His Veepness” are seen as ganging up on “Have Brief, Will Travel.” That would only confirm who is the true anti-establishment figure – Cuccinelli – an issue that is going to loom large next year, when the GOP has an intra-party over who gets blamed for letting the President win so easily this year (note: we predicted this last month on Fox News, and got 1,000 comments in a day, needless to say not all supportive!).
Now, let’s look at the other part of Anita Kumar’s story: those quoted suggest that the fight between Bolling Alone and Ken “Have Brief, Will Travel” Cuccinelli will cost the GOP the governorship in 2013. My response: If this is what Virginia Democrats are counting on, then they are in for a rude awakening.
But first: The real treat in Kumar’s story was John Hager – and I truly admire the former LG, he is a model of courage in my book – being quoted as lamenting that the party needs “unity”, that a fight might be divisive, and that the key was for all the GOP to come together after the primary picks the winner.
In 2001, Hager challenged Mark Earley for the GOP nod to opposed Mark Warner. In the end, Earley won easily, as Hager had to know what would happen given his history with the GOP conservative wing (going back to his fight to be party chair years ago).
After Hager lost, a good part of his backers went for Mark Warner! Indeed, I always assumed Hager supported Warner in private. That was also my working assumption at the time with Hager’s wing of the party, more or less. Warner later put Hager in his cabinet. It was a smart move; John Hager is a very able guy, and made a good cabinet member.
But this is also true: John Hager is a loyal guy, as well as a loyal Republican. However, the party conservatives know the larger story, so to speak.
FACT: The fight between LG Bolling Alone and Ken “Have Brief, Will Travel” Cuccinelli does not per se mean anything for 2013….unless the winner turns out be the weaker general election candidate.
In 1989, the last time the GOP had a big primary fight for Governor, the voters defeated the favored Paul Trible and nominated underdog Marshall Coleman.
Given how that election played out statistically, Senator Trible, due to his strength in the 1st CD particularly (we won it by 20,000 over Coleman; Trible had represented this CD in the Congress before winning a Senate seat, would have beaten us by 20,000: Wilder only won statewide by 6,000) would have won, all things being equal. The truth was, Wilder’s polls didn’t show a real path to winning against Trible, given his strength in rural Virginia. Coleman had us by double digits after his upset win in the primary, but failed to seal the deal.
The point being: The tough primary didn’t hurt Trible in terms of his general election strength, and actually gave Coleman a huge boost that he, thankfully, didn’t use against us.
In 1977, the tough primary fight between Andrew Miller and Henry Howell for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination didn’t hurt Miller versus GOP nominee John Dalton. If Miller had won the primary, he would have crushed Dalton. But the favored and stronger Miller lost to Howell, who proved to be a weak Democratic nominee due to a bad campaign and being too much caught in the past.
The Earley vs Hager 2001 contest didn’t affect either man’s prospects against Warner: both were underdogs before the GOP picked the winner, and would have been afterwards. Warner was strong, while they were weak. End of story.
In 1985, AG Gerry Baliles and LG Dick Davis had a tough fight in a convention process for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. It didn’t hurt the eventual winner – Baliles – who crushed the GOP nominee in the general election. Davis would have won also, although by less of a margin.
Bottom line: The Post story is silly from a political history, experience, and logic point of view. Yes, a competitive primary of course poses dangers that a coronation does not. But a primary also has advantages ,if the winner is capable of using those assets.
LG Bolling Alone will be a far stronger candidate in the general election if he defeats Ken “Have Brief, Will Travel” Cuccinelli in the primary, given the fact that the LG is the big underdog right now. If Bolling Alone wins the GOP nod in 2013, he will start as the odds-on favorite, unless of course they get into one of those Kennedy vs. Carter type things.
That’s possible of course. But the truth is, that kind of stuff starts way before the primary; indeed it is one of the reason you get the challenge in the first place!
In that regard, Governor McDonnell can and will play a key Reaganesque role in all of this: he will want to make sure the personal stuff and the bitter divide doesn’t happen since it is not in McDonnell’s own long-term interest.
Bolling Alone will be mighty unhappy if he loses the 2013 GOP primary, but he will not be a Henry Howell in 1969, who after losing the Democratic primary to John Battle, all but endorsed GOP nominee Linwood Holton.
Those were the days right after segregation, with Mills and Little Harry and the Old Guard still in charge. Howell had been the leading white elected official fighting segregation. The Old Guard would never have backed him had he won the run-off Democratic primary (back then, they had a runoff if no one got 50%).
Now, if Have Brief, Will Travel wins the primary, he too will be stronger as a general election candidate, all other things being equal.
Bottom line: Getting out of bed is a risk, as you can’t fall down the steps if you don’t. But staying in bed has its own risks, including that you might get it hit by a meteor which misses the steps.
At this time in 2007, Democrats would have sworn a long, drawn-out fight between Obama and Clinton would hurt the both of them bad. NOT!
It isn’t the process that matters in this regard, but rather the political standing of the eventual winner. If the GOP picks a weaker guy than would have otherwise been the case in a non-primary situation, then that is the reason they might be more likely to lose, not the competition per se.