The traditional “After Virginia Votes” event was held last night at Koch brothers U…er, GMU in Arlington. Click here for some audio highlights on topics like: “Lack of coordinated GOP campaign”; “Kaine’s focus on down ballot races”; “TV ads that were effective”; “CD 10: Comstock had no path”; “CD 2: Petition signature scandal”; “CD 7: Brat and women voters”; “Is it possible to win with an entirely positive campaign?” and “Will the fever break in 2019?” A few things that jumped out at me include:
- First, I found it striking that the Corey Stewart campaign didn’t participate, as in past years, this event has almost always included representatives from the top-of-the-ticket campaigns (e.g., last year there were Northam and Gillespie reps; in 2016 there were reps from the Trump and Clinton campaigns; in 2014 there were reps from the Warner and Gillespie campaigns; in 2013 there were reps from the Cuccinelli and McAuliffe campaigns….). Instead, this event had the general consultant from Rep. Scott Taylor’s campaign (Chris Jankowski) along with Tim Kaine’s superb campaign manager Keren Charles Dongo. Weird and kinda pathetic, just like…Corey Stewart’s campaign, actually!
- Related to my previous point, Jankowski stated that “the [Corey Stewart] Senate race didn’t really exist until the end,” although he also argued that the Stewart campaign wasn’t “dispositive in any of the Congressional races.” Hard to say on that last point, but with such close races in VA-02 and VA-07, I doubt that the disaster at the top of the ticket could have HELPED the Republican candidates any…
- In stark contrast, Keren Charles Dongo talked about Tim Kaine really focusing on downballot candidates. According to Dongo, “our meetings were really about gaining House seats…he put that in front of me as a goal, as what he would count as a successful night…he said to me ‘if I win and I don’t get any House seats, I’m not going to really feel like this was successful, and…if I win by one or two points but I get House seats, I’m going to think it was a successful night.” That is really impressive, and very well may have made the difference in VA-02 and VA-07. Great stuff by Tim Kaine and his campaign!
- On the immigrant “caravan” message, Dongo said “it worked” to motivate a segment of the Republican base. Dongo said that because “we were pounding our message from so early on, that’s why the bump that the caravan started to bring was a little too late to have an impact on our race.” As for Jankowski, he argued that the caravan/anti-immigrant message worked with the “soccer moms” in the “exurbs.”
- On TV ads that were effective, Dongo pointed to a Taylor ad that morphed Elaine Luria and Nancy Pelosi as one that concerned them in VA-02; Jankowski said the Spanberger ads were “really good,” and you could see Spanberger “growing into it…getting stronger and stronger.” Jankowski thought that Luria’s pre-existing conditions ad was a “head shot” to Taylor’s campaign.
- On Brett Kavanaugh, Dongo said there was a “momentum wall” the Kaine campaign hit at that point, but fortunately they had time on their side and were able to “make it about Virginia” again. From Jankowski’s perspective, the Kavanaugh confirmation story “brought our base back,” including a “bump in our polling” in Virginia that “faded back” within about 10 days…
- On technology driving campaigns, Jankowski said you have to find voters online, “very targeted.” Jankowski added, “the amount of data that we have now is alarming and we use it, but you can’t change the fundamentals, everything’s a game of inches.” Dongo said “the technology has to be used strategically,” as a “means to an end” to speak to your voters. Dongo said there’s a ton of technology out there, and it’s matter of choosing the technology that actually gains votes.
- On VA-10, Jankowski and Dongo agreed there was nothing Barbara Comstock could have done to change the outcome. Dongo said Jennifer Wexton emerged with “no damage from the primary,” while Jankowski said that Wexton “was the best opponent Barbara’s ever had at the worst possible time” and that it was all about Trump.
- On the #petitiongate scandal in VA-02, Jankowski said he came on board the Taylor campaign AFTER the scandal broke, that “we had a never-ending press story, and the worst thing in any campaign is having a story you can’t control and you have no idea where it’s going next…and anybody can understand a dead person signing a petition…and it was just a bad three weeks in August….we were just taking it in the teeth…we saw the race basically go to tied overnight…this hurt him because it just went against his brand.”
- On Dave Brat and women voters being “up in his grill,” Jankowski said it was a struggle for Brat being on the defensive and “I don’t think he handled it well…the moment in the jail in Chesterfield was tough…and Spanberger is GOOD…strong and she got stronger.”
- Jankowski gives a lot of credit to Spanberger and her campaign. Dongo said “she had a great story, she had a strategy as well…bringing fresh energy…and she just tapped into suburban women…women saw themselves in her.”
- Can you win running a totally positive campaign? Jankowski responded, bluntly, “absolutely not.” Jankowski said he was “very impressed” with the Kaine campaign when it went negative – using Corey’s voice, on the issues, “that’s fair and that’s smart.” Jankowski added that Virginia is blue…”let’s call it what it is, it’s blue.”“Kaine ran a very smart race,” while Corey was busy “yelling” on the radio, and “almost felt like that was helping Kaine.”
- Finally, Dongo argued that Virginia is still “purple,” that “Democrats really have to work hard and intentionally to win in Virginia; it is NOT a cake walk…it’s a lot of work and it’s hard…what we cannot do as Democrats is say ok, we won, we’re good now, Virginia’s blue, I don’t have to do anything else again.” Jankowski said he thinks “the fever’s going to break” in 2019 in Virginia; “there’s going to be a lessening of intensity” by Dems in 2019 and that Republicans could pick up seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. Let’s make sure we prove him wrong! 🙂