by Paul Goldman
To sweep, or not to sweep, that is the question. This column should be read with The Beatles in the background singing “with a little help from my friends.” Yes, my lonely prediction, back in the Spring, of the first Democratic sweep since Wilder-Beyer-Terry in 1989, is now being seen by the “gurus” as based on sound predictive analysis. Because the “gurus” don’t ever want to be wrong, they almost always take the “conventional wisdom” line, and in Virginia, the conventional wisdom is this: Republicans are a lock for AG unless Democrats win a Robb ’81 or Baliles ’85 like-size win for Governor.
On the surface this seems true, since Baliles and Robb rank #1 and #2 for the size of a Dem GUV win. I believe Robb did around 53.5% and Baliles came in at 55%, carrying all of the state’s congressional districts. In those years, Baliles, running for AG on the Robb ticket, won a narrow victory. In 1985, Mary Sue Terry, at the time the perfect candidate for Virginia, got north of 60% in her first successful run for AG. Otherwise, in the modern two-party era, the other Dem AG candidates – all men – have all lost.
However, this conventional wisdom from Dr. Sabato and others hangs on a thin reed: namely, Creigh Deed’s photo finish loss by the proverbial nose to Bob McDonnell in the 2005 AG’s race. Had Deeds won, then there would be no Sabato et al thesis, at least as is.
But Kaine’s two-party vote was less than Robb’s, so the basic thesis would seem to be: If a Dem candidate for Governor gets north of 53% in a hypothetical two-way race, then the Dem AG candidate should win. At 52% or less, it becomes progressively more iffy. It is a thesis that fits the two-party era evidence for a non-incumbent on the Dem ticket for AG when you take out Mary Sue Terry’s historic first-ever win for a female statewide candidate. She ran a perfect race and was probably the perfect candidate for that point in time.
How valid is this thesis? There is no way to know, and more over, no time to have a big yada, yada, yada, over it. The 200-proof bottom line: We have the courage of our convictions, and thus say the first Dem sweep is likely….IF….IF… Terry and Ralph do something that has not happened in the modern two party era: a proactive, issue-oriented, UP FRONT AND PERSONAL Democratic ticket campaign.
I am not talking about more GOTV. We got plenty. What I am saying is this. As first predicted here on Blue Virginia last year, Mr. Cuccinelli may very well prove unelectable. His campaign guru, Chris LaCivita, sold him a losing strategy. Indeed, the shutdown is probably Chris’ best news since if you read Politico, he is already getting ready to say they would have won but for the shutdown! Clever boy, heading for the exit first when you have a seeming excuse. Who can blame him? It’s the game.
The polls are clear for a month now: Cuccinelli’s Ahab-like obsession over the state’s anti-sodomy law is a metaphor for his public image and thus campaign. END of story.
But there is still no no evidence that when all is said and done, Terry will get north of 52% in a two-way race. The three-way numbers, and rightly so, are getting the attention since the joke campaign of Robert Sarvis may actually have some legs. BUT the two-way numbers are key for this reason: the LG and AG’s races are two-way contests, there is no third party candidate in those races.
Despite the two-way numbers in the Northam-Jackson race being within the margins of polling error, we at 200-proof have great confidence in the people of the Commonwealth. Senator Northam doesn’t seem to be all that comfortable with the negative attack side of the political game. But he has no choice at this point, and his consultants have been through the fire enough to know they have to “do what they have to do.”
Fortunately, E.W. (He…said what!!???!!) Jackson keeps talking, as opposed to campaigning in his Marine uniform and playing the American soldier fighting for our values. He would still lose, but it might be shockingly close. MEANING: For the first time EVER in the modern era, Republican AG nominee Mark Obenshain is really up the creek with only his own paddle. IF EVER A DEMOCRAT COULD COMPLETE A SWEEP, it should be in 2013.
However, the nature of today’s media (what media?) works to make the AG’s race politically invisible to the voters. Thus, if there is something to the thesis that Republican AG’s have some statistical advantage due to the leanings of an off-year GUV electorate, then all the craziness at the top of the GOP ticket, indeed down to the LG level, MAY NOT AUTOMATICALLY DOOM OBENSHAIN.
Surely the Mary Washington University and Hampton University polls show that. So at 200-proof we say: It doesn’t matter if this seems illogical this year, or if the Sabato thesis relies on a few hundred extra votes for McDonnell. The point is: All the evidence is that Herring will under-perform Terry and Ralph, even if he ran the most brilliant campaign ever. And you can’t just wish the evidence away at this point.
Now the Politico Poll has Terry at 52% in a two-way race. That’s right, the same 52% marker we discussed above. Accordingly, the polls suggest that if the national GOP comes in at the end to help save Cuccinelli from Mr. LaCivita’s determination to lose by a landslide, Terry could easily wind up in the Warner/Kaine zone in a hypothetical two-way, or less. This is called reversion to the mean in statistics.
To be sure, with Cuccinelli’s negatives, this seems illogical to me. His 42% tracks the Ollie North 43% pure vote in 1994, and for good reason in my view. That was also a three-way race with the third-party guy getting 11%. Robb got 46%.
Right now, the three-way numbers have Terry in the 42-44 zone, Ken in the 35-37 zone and Sarvis at 8-12, with the rest undecided. So assume it is a 53-47 two-way race at the end, with Terry and Ken, less than Robb but more than Kaine. Northam will get a higher vote due to GOP and independent Republican-leaning revulsion with Jackson. HOWEVER, the history says these defectors will come back to the Obenshain line, since he has more money to define himself and a solid statewide name for politics.
BOTTOM LINE: Unless Democrats mount the first-ever real ticket campaign starting two weeks out, then if Dr. Sabato is right, the GOP under current will naturally push Obenshain ahead of his GOP posse ticket mates. Wilder, the weakest of the Dems in 1985, ran roughly 3.5 points behind Baliles. In 1981, Baliles ran roughly 2.5 points behind Robb. Are these useful markers from a different era? There is no way to know. But it has to be assumed that left out there on his or her own, a Dem AG candidate is going to run at least 2 points behind the top of the ticket’s two way hypothetical vote.
So with polls showing 52% for T-Mac in a two-way vote, they are showing a dead-even race for AG, even at 53% given the margins of error.
AT 200 PROOF: We just call it like it is, no value judgment. We might be voting for Herring, but that doesn’t affect our analysis, we play it like it lies, PGA rules. Net, Net: While there is some downside risk to Terry and Ralph, it is not a risk of losing, only margins of victory. Mark could run the most brilliant campaign, but the gods of the political undertow don’t much care. The structure of the media today is against him being in the third position, way down the ballot.
The national GOP is going to come into the state in the last week to save Obenshain. This may mean trying to hold down the T-Mac margin. It may mean a straight pro-Obenshain play. It might be anti-Herring. I am not smart enough to know, I leave that to the experts. What I DO know is this: Dr. Sabato knows his stuff. So I assume Obenshain is going to run 2-3 points better than Cuccinelli in a two way. UNLESS DEMOCRATS MOUNT A REAL TICKET CAMPAIGN.
This may turn out not to be true in 2013, it will eventually sometime. But hindsight is not my game. I am stickin’ to my sweep prediction. But like any pilot, you have to learn to trust your instruments in a fog. Give me a real DEM TICKET CAMPAIGN, and Mark is the favorite. Without it, if Cuccinelli mounts any kind of comeback in the last 10 days, then Herring is being put at risk.