As opposed to December 2011, when I made a bunch of predictions for 2012 (most of which turned out to be correct or partly right/partly wrong), I decided not to push my luck. Instead, last December, I posted Virginia Politics 2013: A Dozen Things to Keep an Eye On. So let’s close the loop: how did these dozen things end up working out?
1.“The marquee political race of 2013 will be, by far and away, the Virginia gubernatorial race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli. The things to watch here are whether Bill Bolling throws his hat in the ring as an independent, whether Cuccinelli even bothers to try and reposition himself towards the “center” (good luck with THAT one!), and how strong a campaign McAuliffe runs, given that he’s mostly been a behind-the-scenes guy and a businessman, not a politician, for his entire adult life. The other thing to watch out for is whether either ‘side’ seems particularly energized as 2013 proceeds; e.g., will there be a ‘wave’ for either the ‘blue’ or ‘red’ teams in 2013? Right now, I simply have no idea.”
Yes, the marquee race was between T-Mac and Cooch. No, Bill Bolling didn’t throw his hat in the ring. No, Cooch didn’t even bother trying to re-position himself to the “center.” Yes, McAuliffe ran a strong campaign, far stronger than Cooch’s. And no, there was no “wave” for either “red” or “blue” teams in 2013.
2. “The Republican battles for LG and AG should be fascinating, as a bunch of mostly right wingnuts battles it out for the support of a tiny percentage of Virginia Republicans at a convention that skews hard right. The question is not whether this will get crazy and (right-wing) extreme, but more HOW crazy and (right-wing) extreme it will get. Personally, I’m rooting for these people making themselves completely unelectable in the general, a la Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. Let’s hope…”
Yep, that’s pretty much what happened, as the Virginia GOP convention went off the deep end, nominating the most extreme ticket in Virginia (U.S.?) history – Ken Kookinelli, raving theocrat E.W. Jackson, and Mark “Criminalize Miscarriages” Obenshain. Yes, these were the Virginia equivalents of Akin and Mourdock. And yes, the results were the same – Republicans lost, Democrats won. Hey Virginia Republicans: please don’t ever change; we Democrats love you just the way you are! 🙂
3. On the Democratic side, it looks like the only interesting primary – and yes, it’s a primary, not a convention – will be for LG, between Sen. Ralph Northam and former Kaine and Obama technology guru Aneesh Chopra. How will this race play out? Will it be focused on: a) ideological differences of any kind; b) electability arguments; c) appeals to different geographical regions of the state; or d) other? How much will endorsements matter in this race (Northam seems to have an early edge on this front)? What about money (Chopra seems to have a big, early edge there)? Will this race stay civil, or will it get rough as often happens in intra-party contests? Stay tuned.”
Actually, it turned out that there were TWO interesting primaries on the Democratic side, with never-heard-of-him-before/newcomer Justin Fairfax coming out of nowhere to give State Senator Mark Herring a serious run for his money (Fairfax lost by a slim, 51.7%-48.3% margin). Where did THAT come from? As for the LG race, Aneesh Chopra sprinted out to an early lead in terms of money and organization, yet ended up losing to Ralph Northam 54.2%-45.8%. I’m still not totally sure how that one happened, exactly, although no question Northam’s bio is impressive, and no question that Chopra had no real “base” or name ID. It will be interesting to see if Chopra (or Fairfax, for that matter) decides to run again in the future.
4. “Will Bolling reconcile in any way with Cuccinelli, or will their mutual antipathy only deepen in 2013? If the latter occurs, which I tend to believe is more likely, will Bolling go so far as to endorse McAuliffe or to run himself? How much clout does Bolling have, anyway, given that most Virginians don’t even know who he is? I guess we’ll find out in coming months.”
Bolling and Cuccinelli hated each other a year ago, and they hated each other throughout 2013 as well. Although Bolling didn’t endorse McAuliffe, it seems that he did what he (and his top political advisor, Boyd Marcus) could behind the scenes to help T-Mac and get revenge on crazy Cooch. How much impact did any of this have? Impossible to quantify, but I can’t believe it didn’t hurt Cooch at all.
5. “Will the the 2013 Virginia General Assembly session accomplish anything, such as serious movement on the transportation funding front, or will it devolve into another ALEC-style push for hard-right-wing legislation on women’s reproductive rights, “guns, god, and gays” (to paraphrase Howard Dean), immigration, letting corporations run amok (even worse than they already can in Virginia), etc? Will Bill Howell keep his caucus focused, or will he let it spin out of control, with the Sideshow Bobs of the world dominating news coverage (and hurting Ken Kookinelli in the process)? This should be fascinating.”
Yes, it did accomplish a major transportation bill. I’m not saying it was a particularly GOOD transportation bill, but it was significant, no question. The 2013 session was also significant for Senate Republicans staging a coup, basically: while Sen. Henry Marsh (D) was at President Obama’s inauguration, they rammed through a “surprise rewrite of the 2011 redistricting plan that erases a Democratic seat in western Virginia and creates a sixth majority black district that would be located between Petersburg and Danville.” Outrageous stuff. As for the House of Delegates, Speaker Bill Howell basically kept things on track, with not too much crazy stuff this past year (it’s all relative, of course). As for hurting Cuccinelli, he did it to himself by trying to sabotage the bipartisan transportation deal. Not surprisingly, the McAuliffe campaign hammered him on that relentlessly, and it also was a part of the rationale for groups like Fairfax Chamber of Commerce to endorse McAuliffe over Cooch. Remind me again, who was arguing that Cuccinelli was such a clever, effective politician? So much for that.
6. “Will Virginia Democrats run strong candidates in at LEAST all the ‘Obama districts’ currently held by Republicans? My understanding is that there are 18 of those. In theory, that means if we won all of them (highly unlikely, of course) we’d go from 32 seats in the House of Delegates to a 50/50 tie. But first and foremost, this depends on recruiting strong candidates, funding them generously, and making sure we turn out the
‘Obama voters’ from 2012.”
I’d say Democrats did an overall good job on the recruiting front. The problem is, it STILL didn’t work — although it came very close. Just a week or two before the election, I was hearing that Dems could pick up a net of 10 or even 14 House of Delegates seats. In the end, we netted just 1 seat, with several others losing by tiny margins. Maddeningly frustrating.
7. “How will DPVA function under new leadership? Other than the new DPVA Chair Charniele Herring, who will that new leadership be exactly? So far, I haven’t heard any movement on finding a new Executive Director, for instance. How long will this process drag on into 2013 (hopefully not long), and will DPVA be stronger in the end?
DPVA was basically a wholly-owned subsidiary of the McAuliffe campaign in 2013, so the real question is how it performs in 2014, 2015, etc. All in all, I’d say that DPVA did well in 2013, competently performing the role(s) it was tasked to perform.
8. “How involved will Democratic heavy hitters Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb be in the 2013 campaign? Will Warner and Kaine be mostly focused on national issues, or will they campaign hard for Terry McAuliffe and the rest of the Democratic ticket? Will Webb focus on writing books, traveling, making movies, fun stuff like that, or will he stay active in Virginia politics on behalf of Democratic candidates? Got me.”
Warner and Kaine were team players with the McAuliffe campaign – sending out fundraising emails, appearing at rallies, etc. As for Jim Webb? He completely disappeared, didn’t hear a peep from him (or see any effort on his part to help the Virginia Democratic ticket) in 2013. The thing is, even if Webb doesn’t like politics (which he doesn’t), and even if he wasn’t a fan of Terry McAuliffe (which I heard repeatedly that he wasn’t), he should have been doing what he could for Ralph Northam, Mark Herring, and the House of Delegates candidates. Very, very disappointing.
9. “Will there be regional referenda on raising gas taxes to pay for transportation improvements in Virginia? If so will they fare any better than the ones that went down in flames in 2002?”
10. “To what extent will national economic and political events impact Virginia’s 2013 elections? For many years now, Virginia has voted opposite for governor from the party controlling the White House, but will this hold in 2013 if the economy’s doing well, Obama’s popular, and there’s no right-wing movement like the Tea Party of 2009-2010?”
I’d argue that the government shutdown helped boost Terry McAuliffe early to mid October, while the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov energized Cuccinelli supporters in late October/early November. Probably a “wash” overall. As for President Obama’s not-so-scintillating approval numbers, they didn’t seem to hurt McAuliffe much, if at all. So much for the theory that Virginia always votes the opposite party of whoever’s in the White House.
11. “Given the unpopularity of the Republican Party nationally, will Ken Cuccinelli be able to bring in anyone from outside Virginia to help him, or will all of them – Santorum, Boehner, McConnell, whoever – be net negatives for him?”
The Republican Party got even LESS popular in 2013, yet Cuccinelli brought in wingnut after wingnut to fire up his base (in what was, after all, a base election year). Sure, Dems pounded him for these lunatics, which may have helped fire up our base, but meanwhile those folks helped fire up his base as well. Another “wash?”
12. “On the Democratic side, will Barack Obama be a major participant in helping Terry McAuliffe, and if so how much will it help rev up the Obama coalition to come out and vote for T-Mac? Oh, and let’s not forget former President Bill Clinton; will he merely camp out in Virginia, or will he formally relocate so that he can campaign 24/7 for his friend T-Mac? 😉 Just kidding on the relocating, but I do wonder how much of the super-popular Bill Clinton we’ll be seeing in 2013, and how much that will boost McAuliffe and the rest of the Democratic ticket.”
Other than a last-minute rally by Obama for T-Mac, he really wasn’t a participant. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was here for nearly a week at the end of the campaign, helping to fire up Democrats to get out and vote. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton also helped T-Mac raise ungodly amounts of money. Plus, Hillary Clinton did a public rally for T-Mac in Falls Church (which I attended). How much all of that boosted T-Mac is hard to say, but it certainly didn’t seem to help the Democratic House of Delegates candidates. Perhaps it helped boost Mark Herring over Mark Obenshain by fewer than 1,000 votes? We’ll never know, but it’s certainly possible.