In my interview with 2021 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s pollster, Pete Brodnitz, last night, he really stressed the importance of *experience* for Democratic primary voters. Thus, according to Brodnitz:
“Clearly, experience matters…in a Democratic primary because we actually care about governance…[Jennifer McClellan has] more experience than the entire rest of the field combined [and has done a lot of work] “in the kinds of issues that people care about.”
Anyway, I was thinking about Brodnitz’s comments, and I was wondering if Democratic primary voters in Virginia had tended to pick the candidate with the most experience, the most relevant experience, etc. over the years. With that in mind, here’s a look at some Democratic primaries for statewide office and for U.S. House of Representatives, going back to 2005, when I first got involved in Virginia politics.
- 2005 Democratic Lt. Governor primary: The winner of the primary was Leslie Byrne over Viola Baskerville, Chap Petersen and Phil Puckett. Byrne had served in the Virginia House of Delegates for six years, then in the U.S. House of Representatives for two years, then for four years in the Virginia State Senate. So clearly, Byrne had a LOT of experience as an elected official – 12 years of it, by my count. As for Viola Baskerville, she had served for seven years in the Virginia House of Delegates when she ran for Lt. Governor. Chap Petersen had served on the Fairfax City Council for three years, then for four years in the House of Delegates when he ran for Lt. Governor. And Phil Puckett had served for six years in the State Senate when he ran for Lt. Governor. So, bottom line: Byrne had the most experience in elective office and she won the Democratic nomination.
- 2006 Democratic U.S. Senate primary: Neither Jim Webb nor Harris Miller had ever held elective office at that point, but Webb did serve as the nation’s first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs and as Navy Secretary in the Reagan Administration. As for Miller, he was President of the Information Technology Association of America. Bottom line: in terms of federal government experience, Webb by far had the most, and he won the nomination.
- 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary: The three candidates were Terry McAuliffe, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds. At that point, McAuliffe had never held elective office, although he had served as DNC Chair for four years. Brian Moran had served in the Virginia House of Delegates for 12 years when he ran for governor. And Creigh Deeds had served for 17 years – 10 in the House of Delegates (1991-2001) and seven State Senate (2001-2008) when he ran for governor. So, in terms of holding Virginia elective office, the bottom line is that Deeds had the most experience of the three candidates…and he won the nomination.
- 2009 Democratic Lt. Governor primary: The candidates were Jody Wagner, Mike Signer and Jon Bowerbank. Wagner had not held elective office, but she *had* served as Treasurer of Virginia during Gov. Mark Warner’s administration, and as Secretary of Finance in Gov. Tim Kaine’s administration. Signer had not held elective office, although he’d worked for the John Edwards for President and Tom Perriello for Congress campaigns. And Bowerbank was a businessman who had not held elective office. Bottom line: Wagner had the most relevant experience and she won the primary.
- 2013 Democratic Lt. Governor primary: This primary pitted Ralph Northam against Aneesh Chopra. At that point, Northam had served in the State Senate since 2008. While Chopra hadn’t held elective office, he’d served as Secretary of Technology under Gov. Tim Kaine, and as U.S. Chief Technology Officer starting in 2009. So both clearly had experience, but only Northam as an elected official, and Northam won the primary by a 54%-46% margin.
- 2013 Democratic Attorney General primary: The two candidates were Mark Herring and Justin Fairfax. While Fairfax had never held elective office, Herring had served for three years on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and for eight years in the State Senate. So clearly, Herring had by far the most relevant experience, and he won the primary, albeit by a very narrow margin.
- 2014 Democratic primary for U.S. House in VA08: There were a slew of candidates in this primary, to succeed Rep. Jim Moran (D), including Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, State Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegate Patrick Hope, Del. Charniele Herring and several others who had never held elective office. Beyer had a great deal of relevant experience, including serving two terms as Lt. Governor, running as the Democratic nominee for governor, serving as United States Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, etc., as well as having very high name ID due to his public service and auto dealerships. Beyer also outspent his primary opponents by a LOT. Perhaps not surprisingly, for a combination of all those reasons, plus the fact that Beyer ran a strong campaign, he easily won the primary.
- 2017 Democratic Lt. Governor primary: The candidates were former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi, Susan Platt (former Chief of Staff to Sen. Joe Biden and former campaign manager for Sen. Chuck Robb ) and attorney Justin Fairfax. At that point, none of them had held elective office, although Fairfax had run for Attorney General in 2013, narrowly losing to Mark Herring. In this case, it’s hard to say which candidate had the most relevant experience, but Fairfax had the highest name ID, having run four years earlier, and he won the primary.
- 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary: Lt. Governor Ralph Northam faced off against former/one-term U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello. Clearly, Northam had more relevant experience, and Northam won the primary, although Perriello was certainly competitive.
- 2018 U.S. House primary in VA02: The candidates were Elaine Luria (a former U.S. Navy Commander) and Karen Mallard (a teacher who had served on the PTA). It’s hard to argue which candidate had the most relevant experience – military or education? – but in the end, Luria won the primary easily.
- 2018 U.S. House primary in VA07: The candidates here were Abigail Spanberger and Dan Ward. Neither had held elective office, with Spanberger having served as a CIA operations officer and Ward having served in the U.S. Marine Corps. In the end, Spanberger won the primary easily (73%-27%).
- 2018 U.S. House primary in VA10: The candidates in this race were State Senator Jennifer Wexton, Alison Friedman, Lindsey Davis Stover, Dan Helmer Paul Pelletier and Julia Biggins. At that point, the only one of these candidate who had held elective office was Wexton, although the others also had interesting and substantive experience. Wexton easily won the primary.
So, for statewide office, in every one of these cases, the Democratic candidate with the most experience in elective office or serving in a governor’s administration won the primary. And for U.S. Congress, this was generally the case as well. So…yes, Pete Brodnitz does seem to have a point about the candidate with the most relevant experience having an advantage in a Democratic primary. Which brings us to the 2021 Virginia statewide primaries; let’s see how the candidates stack up in terms of experience.
- 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary: Terry McAuliffe served as governor for four years; Justin Fairfax has served for Lt. Governor for three years; Jennifer McClellan has served in the Virginia General Assembly since 2006; Jennifer Carroll Foy served in the House of Delegates from January 2018 to December 2020. Based on relevant Virginia experience alone, clearly Jennifer McClellan has the most of the four candidates in terms of number of years, although McAuliffe has actually served as governor for four years. So…tough call here. What do you think?
- 2021 Democratic Lt. Governor primary: There are eight candidates – Hala Ayala, Elizabeth Guzman, Paul Goldman, Sam Rasoul, Andria McClellan, Xavier Warren, Sean Perryman and Mark Levine – running. Five of those – Ayala, Guzman, Rasoul, McClellan and Levine – have experience in elective office. Of those, Rasoul has served in the House of Delegates for six years; Mark Levine has served in the House of Delegates since January 2016; Ayala and Guzman have served in the House of Delegates since January 2018; and Andria McClellan has served on the Norfolk City Council since June 2016. So..Rasoul has the most experience as an elected official, albeit not by a lot over Levine and McClellan. Will that make a difference in June? We’ll see, but in this case, there’s so little difference in terms of the amount of relevant experience between these candidates that I doubt it…
- 2021 Democratic Attorney General primary: The two candidates are Del. Jay Jones and AG Mark Herring. In terms of experience in elective office, Jones has served in the House of Delegates since January 2018, while Herring served for three years on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and for eight years in the State Senate and for seven years as Attorney General. So…a clear advantage here in terms of experience for Herring. We’ll see if that proves decisive in the primary.