Home 2019 Elections Parallels, Differences Between 2017 VA Dem Primary and Previous Ones (e.g., 2006,...

Parallels, Differences Between 2017 VA Dem Primary and Previous Ones (e.g., 2006, 2009)


I’ve noticed a bunch of parallels and differences between this year’s Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary and previous statewide Democratic primaries. Here, I’m going to focus on two high-profile cases: 1) the 2006 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between Jim Webb and Harris Miller; and 2) the 2009 Democratic primary for Governor between Creigh Deeds, Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe.

Grassroots Support (2017 vs. 2006): Back in 2006, Jim Webb had a “ragtag army” of around 1,000 volunteers as of June (plus a “draft” movement, started back in late December 2005), and we were seriously fired up. In contrast, Harris Miller had a relatively small – albeit passionate – grassroots following. This year, Tom Perriello appears to be counting on his own grassroots “army” of supporters, the question being how large and effective that “army” is. As for Ralph Northam, he also seems to have strong, passionate grassroots support  as well. So…more differences than parallels between 2006 and 2017 on this one?

Grassroots Support (2017 vs. 2009): In 2009, it seems to me that Brian Moran had by far the most – and most intense – grassroots support of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates that year. Creigh Deeds probably had the least. Yet Deeds, who seemed to have very little grassroots support – certainly in places like Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roadds – won the primary after McAuliffe and Moran basically nuked each other, and also after the Washington Post endorsed Deeds.

Newspaper Endorsements: So far at least, with just over a week to go, I haven’t seen any major newspaper endorsements in the 2017 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary. In 2006, the Washington Post endorsed Harris Miller (note that, despite this, Miller got crushed by around 2:1 in the Post’s core readership area – Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun; so much for the supposed power of the Washington Post’s endorsement?). In 2009, the Washington Post endorsed Creigh Deeds, and Deeds kicked butt in Fairfax County, Arlington County, etc. (hey, maybe newspaper endorsements DO matter after all? LOL)

Voter Turnout: In 2009, a pathetic 6.4% of active voters turned out for the Deeds/McAuliffe/Moran primary — just 319,168 votes out of nearly 5 million active voters. But as bad as that turnout was, it doubled turnout in the 2006 Democratic U.S. Senate primary, despite Dems being fired up against the Iraq War, the Bush administration, etc. Believe it or not, in 2006, just 155,784 people voted for either Jim Webb (83,298) or Harris Miller (72,486), a miserable 3.5% voter turnout rate. The question this year is whether Democrats angry at Trump will turn out in relatively big numbers (e..g, 350k? 400k? 500k?) or will stay home as they did in 2006. We’ll see in nine days…

Virginia vs. National Endorsements:  In 2006, by the time Jim Webb got in the race, Harris Miller – the Virginia “establishment” (Mark Warner, Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran, etc.) pick  to run (and they assumed LOSE) to George Allen – had locked up a slew of Virginia “elected” endorsements. Meanwhile, Jim Webb, who didn’t get in the race until February 2006, picked off a few important Virginia endorsements (e.g., Leslie Byrne, Donald McEachin, Chap Petersen, Chuck Robb, Jay Fisette, Ingrid Morroy, Phil Puckett) while racking up NATIONAL endorsements like John Kerry, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Bob Kerrey, Wesley Clark, Max Cleland, Tom Daschle, the Laborers International Union, etc. In 2009, Terry McAuliffe also got some national endorsements, such as Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell, Brian Schweitzer and a few Virginia ones (e.g., Del. Ken Plum, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters), Del. Algie Howell) while Creigh Deeds dominated among his fellow Democratic Senators and Brian Moran among his fellow Democratic Delegates. So…yeah, 2009 was all over the place, while 2006 was much more “Virginia vs. National” in the endorsements category. So far, 2017 looks like an even more extreme version of 2006, with major national endorsements for Tom Perriello (e.g., Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, a slew of Barack Obama’s former top aides, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chair, national climate/enviro activists, labor unions, etc.) while Ralph Northam, who got in wayyyyyyy before there was even the slightest inkling that Tom Perriello might run, had already locked up the vast majority of Virginia endorsements by the time Tom entered the race (which, by the way, means that a lot of those endorsers might very well have stayed neutral – or made a different endorsement – if Perriello had, let’s say, announced his candidacy a year ago). Now, how much do these endorsements matter?  I really don’t know…

Fundraising: In 2006, Harris Miller raised at least twice as much money as Jim Webb (I’ve heard that Webb was actually outspent by upwards of 4:1 or 5:1), yet Webb won that race, albeit not by a large margin or with strong turnout. In 2009, McAuliffe ($8.3 million) FAR outspent Brian Moran ($4.1 million) and Creigh Deeds ($3.5 million), yet Deeds won the nomination. This year, Ralph Northam is likely to outraise/outspend Tom Perriello (although probably not by a huge margin), in part due to Northam’s enormous head start, so we’ll see if that extra money helps Northam pull this thing out on June 13.

Nastiness (or not): The 2006 Democratic primary was, I think it’s fair to say, viciously nasty. It came from the “top” and the “bottom,” by the way, as Webb and Miller clearly detested each other, while Webb’s and Miller’s supporters ripped each other – and their candidates – “a new one” as the saying goes. For instance, Miller sent out mailer after mailer accusing Webb of being racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic. For his part, Webb accused Miller of being a corrupt slimeball, corporate lobbyist for outsourcing American jobs, etc. Fun times, eh? Yet Democrats beat George Allen in November, so the idea that a vicious Democratic primary will inevitably kill us in the fall definitely didn’t hold up that year. As for 2009, that one was also super nasty, with Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe the two main antagonists. Creigh Deeds was smart, mostly standing back and letting Moran and McAuliffe destroy each other. And it worked, as Deeds won the primary by a wide margin. As for November, Democrats got creamed, but I’d argue it had absolutely NOTHING to do with the nasty spring primary (note that Deeds’ only lead against Bob McDonnell came right after that nasty primary ended) and EVERYTHING to do with the Tea Party wave that by the fall of 2009 had begun building, while Democrats went to sleep. This year, I’d argue that the Perriello vs. Northam primary has been somewhat heated, but nothing like 2006 or 2009 — and also not even close to the viciousness with which Corey Stewart has attacked Ed Gillespie over on the Republican side…

Corporate Media/Social Media: In the spring of 2006, the Virginia media was a lot stronger than it is today, while – NOT coincidentally – Facebook was not being used by the general public, YouTube was just getting going, and Twitter hadn’t been invented yet. So, back in 2006, political blogs were a lot more numerous then they are today. In the spring of 2009, Facebook still wasn’t even close to what it is today, nor was Twitter a major factor that I recall. Today, a LOT of discussion about the Virginia Democratic primary seems to be happening on Facebook and Twitter, plus the blog you are currently reading, while the Virginia corporate media has declined even further in its coverage, endorsement (or, as noted above, lack thereof), etc.

The National Political Environment: In the spring of 2006, Democrats were increasingly angry about the Iraq War and the Bush Administration (e.g., in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in late August/September 2005), while Republicans weren’t particularly fired up. By early June 2006, Bush’s approval rating in Gallup was hovering in the mid-30% range, and it didn’t get any better by November. The end result was a “wave election” in 2006 for Democrats, as we took back the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and a bunch of governorships and state legislatures. In 2009, the atmosphere was very different, as Democrats mostly went to sleep after Barack Obama’s victory in November 2008, while Republicans increasingly started to “resist” Obama, declaring that they wanted him to “fail,” opposing the “stimulus” and Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare”), etc. However, Barack Obama was still quite popular in June 2009, at around 60% approval.  That fell to about 50% by November 2009, when Bob McDonnell easily won the Virginia governorship. In 2017, Democrats are very angry at Trump, who is wildly unpopular (37%-57% in Gallup as of yesterday), while Republicans don’t seem particularly fired up. We’ll see how that plays out on June 13 in terms of turnout, who the Dems and Republicans nominate, and how it proceeds into the fall…

Political/Ideological Reinventions: In 2006, of course, Jim Webb went from being President Reagan’s former Navy Secretary back to being a Democrat. Webb ran in 2006 as a mixture of libertarian (e.g., government shouldn’t come in our front doors unless there’s an overriding reason to do so), populist (e.g., Webb sounded like an early version of Bernie Sanders in 2006, railing against corporate CEOs getting rich while their workers got screwed), and anti-Iraq War on foreign policy. For his part, Harris Miller ran as a conservative Democrat who could win in Appalachia, a self-described “Old Testament kinda guy” who would be happy to “flip the switch myself” on the electric chair, etc. In 2009, Brian Moran had the most dramatic reinvention, going from a relatively “centrist” Democrat (e.g., 69% rating from the Virginia Citizens Defense League in 2004, 56% rating from Americans United for Separation of Church and State from 2000 to 2005; 77% rating from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce; 66% rating from NARAL VA in 2006) to SUPER PROGRESSIVE!!!! (after Terry McAuliffe entered the race and Moran hired Joe Trippi and Steve Jarding as advisors)  In 2017, Tom Perriello has moved sharply away from the NRA, now calling it a “nutjob extremist organization,” while repeatedly and strongly disavowing his vote for the Stupak amendment and pushing for strong pro-choice guarantees in the Virginia constitution and in law.  Meanwhile, Ralph Northam has continued his meandering journey from: a) a lifelong Republican until he ran as a Democrat in 2007 (at the age of 48); b) a conservative Democrat who – depending on the story/source – may or may not have seriously considered switching parties in 2009 and, as late as the fall of 2013, said that he was saying “I don’t consider myself as a liberal. I consider myself as a moderate person. I think the less government, the better”; c) today running as someone who’s supposedly been a consistent progressive his entire political career. Fascinating how politics works, ain’t it?

Polling: So far in 2017, there has been VERY little public polling of the Virginia Democratic – or Republican – gubernatorial races, as the polling industry appears to be in sorry shape these days. Back in 2006, my recollection is there weren’t many Miller vs. Webb polls either. As for 2009, by this point there had been 13 public polls, compared to 5 this year (not counting “internals” or ones done for a specific candidate). Where did all the polls go? Mostly, Public Policy Polling (PPP) appears to have largely gotten out of the public polling business, Research 2000 is long gone, Survey USA appears to be mostly moribund, and…well there you have it!

One Huge Difference: Sure, in the spring of 2006 Democrats intensely disliked George W. Bush and in 2009 Republicans were starting to turn strongly against Barack Obama, but we’ve never seen anything like 2017 — President Donald Trump, the level of dismay/disgust/fear/outrage among Democrats, the huge marches (e.g., the gigantic Women’s March and very large Climate March) against Trump we’ve seen so far, etc. How Trump will impact elections here in Virginia and nationally in 2017 and beyond has been seen a bit so far, in the Democratic overperformances in Kansas and Montana, the Democratic win in Prince William County a few weeks ago, the near-victory of Jon Ossoff in Georgia on April 18 (and the possibility he’ll win on June 20), and the surprise candidacy of Tom Perriello here in Virginia following Trump’s shocking, horrifying win in November. But how Trump’s presidency will play out politically going forward, we simply don’t know. We will start finding out, however, on June 13 here in Virginia, on June 20 in Georgia and of course this November in Virginia, New Jersey, etc. Stay tuned — and more importantly, GET INVOLVED in the resistance!


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