I really haven’t been in the mood to do a full-fledged “Winners and Losers” list this year (in short, Virginia lost big time; a variant of Lee Atwater’s “Southern Strategy” – “a Republican Party electoral strategy to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism” – won big time), but for some semi-random (e.g., not in any particular order) thoughts, questions and hypotheticals from the 2021 Virginia elections, see below.
- Did Terry McAuliffe’s millions of dollars worth of TV and digital ads saying his opponent’s name and tying him to Donald Trump: a) help McAuliffe; b) end up as a “wash”; c) hurt McAuliffe somewhat; d) hurt McAuliffe badly, possibly even to the point of electing Youngkin? I asked a bunch of Virginia Democratic politicos who I respect, and I mostly got “b”s and “c”s, with a couple “a”s. Personally, I’d go with “c,” as I think that while these ads definitely helped increase Democratic turnout, they also messaged to Trump-loving voters that Youngkin was one of them, freeing up Youngkin to focus on crafting a less “Trumpy” image in his advertising. Also, my understanding is that you’re really not supposed to say your opponent’s name over and over again, especially when the opponent starts off with very low name ID. In the end, if the answer to this question is “b,” then McAuliffe probably would have been better off spending the money on other things. If the answer to this question is “c,” then one could argue that McAuliffe’s millions of dollars in ads tying Youngkin to Trump actually helped Youngkin on balance, which obviously is not what a campaign wants to do with their opponent…
- What if the “Coordinated” campaign had gotten going a lot earlier than it did and was more effective than it reportedly was? I’ve heard from numerous Dems that they were not, to put it mildly, impressed with the “Coordinated” campaign. One of the problems I heard about was that the “Coordinated” didn’t get going until very late, after months of being told that it was going to be *amazing*. The problem, apparently, came down to money to a large degree, with McAuliffe heavily focused on building back his cash reserves after the Democratic primary, and also with the challenge of trying to compete with a super-rich guy (Youngkin) who could just “cut himself checks.” So what I heard is that, over the summer, Youngkin did exactly that, allowing him to run a strong “field” program AND to take major steps in defining himself to voters, in TV advertising and elsewhere. Also, I’m told that the decision to move towards union wages, benefits, etc. for “field” workers meant that – even though it was the right thing to do morally, etc. – it cost a lot more, meaning that the choice was either to do a lot less of it or to shift money from elsewhere (e.g., TV advertising). In the end, it appears the decision was made to focus on matching Youngkin on TV in the fall…
- What if Democrats had nominated candidates from Hampton Roads – Andria McClellan for LG and/or Jay Jones for AG – instead of going with an all-NOVA ticket? In 2017, with Ralph Northam – who grew up on the Eastern Shore, went to Eastern Virginia Medical School, and had VERY strong ties to the region in general – Democrats did great in the Hampton Roads area, both with the statewide candidates and with Democratic House of Delegates candidates. This time around…not so much. For instance, in 2017, Ralph Northam won Virginia Beach over Ed Gillespie 66,442 (51.9%)-60,073 (46.9%) and Norfolk 39,453 (73.5%)-13,490 (25.1%). This time around, Terry McAuliffe LOST Virginia Beach to Glenn Youngkin by a 54% (Youngkin got 86,973 votes) -46% (McAuliffe got 73,965 votes) margin. So McAuliffe got more votes than Northam, but not enough to compensate for the massive increase in votes from Virginia Beach by Youngkin compared to Gillespie. As for Norfolk, McAuliffe won it this time over Youngkin by a 67.1% (with 40,324 votes)-31.5% (with 18,888 votes) margin. That’s good, but not nearly the margin Northam got in 2017. The question is, if the Democratic ticket had had candidates from Hampton Roads – Andria McClellan for LG and/or Jay Jones for AG – would that have boosted Democratic turnout and performance somewhat (how much?) in this crucial region of the Commonwealth? Would that have been enough for perhaps Jones winning the AG race over Jason Miyares? Or maybe McClellan beating out Winsome Sears for LG? Or how about Del. Alex Askew, Del. Martha Mugler and Del. Nancy Guy – all of whom are from that region – gaining a couple hundred votes each to hold on to their seats and get Democrats to either 50 or 51 House of Delegates seats? We’ll never know, but it’s something I’ve been wondering about… (Oh yeah, also on the Hampton Roads front, what if former President Obama had done a rally there too, not just in Richmond?)
- What if Congress had passed President Biden’s agenda a few weeks – or months earlier? A lot of Democrats (Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and MANY others) have pointed to this as a major factor in McAuliffe’s loss last Tuesday. I can’t decide if I agree with them or not. I mean, I feel like the key was really Biden’s *approval* rating, not passing these pieces of legislation – as important as they are – per se. *However*, if passing this legislation had resulted in Biden’s approval rating being higher than it was, by maybe 5-10 points or whatever, I *do* think that could have made a difference on election day last week…at least helping Dems hold the House of Delegates, and possibly even winning one or more of the statewide races.
- What if the media had actually done its job and reported on what Youngkin had really said about his hard-right positions on the issues? Instead, we got a bunch of blather from the media about how Youngkin was some sort of “blank slate” (he absolutely was not if you were paying any attention at all…which apparently many/most of these reporters were not), some sort of “moderate” (he absolutely was NOT), etc. Heck, a few weeks before the election, we got not one, not two, but THREE horrendously bad front-page WaPo articles (or more accurately whitewashing and stenography) one of which even embarrassingly talked about Youngkin as a “6 foot 5 mystery date.” And when the national news outlets started covering Virginia, it got even worse, as most of these folks know nothing about what’s going on here, just pop in every four years and do their “both sides”/”Democrats are DOOOMED” shtick, then move on. Anyway, if the media had actually done its job – which would have included actually INFORMING READERS that Youngkin had hard-right positions, was L-Y-I-N-G about many things (from “CRT” to transgender kids to Democrats supposedly weakening educational standards or causing “gas prices” to go up or…) – things could have been a lot different. But the media didn’t do its job, and here we are.
- What if Democrats had a counter to the “Fox News/conservative media echo chamber,” which the McAuliffe campaign pointed to as one of the key causes of its defeat last Tuesday? As we stand now, the right-wing has a vast echo chamber on TV, talk radio, local “news” sites, Facebook (whose algorithm was changed in 2017 to reward “rage,” “misinformation,” vitriol, etc…), etc. And Democrats have…nothing to counter any of this, basically (nope, sorry, MSNBC doesn’t even go 1% of the way towards countering the right-wing media echo chamber, even if you actually believe that MSNBC is consistently liberal, which of course it is NOT …former Republican Joe Scarborough, who helped elect Trump? “both-sides”/Republican-friendly Chuck Todd?). What if Democrats had gotten a clue years ago and started building up their own messaging machine? Would we be consistently winning races like this one, instead of…not winning them?
- What if Democrats had nominated Jennifer Carroll Foy or Jennifer McClellan instead of Terry McAuliffe for governor? This one’s really hard to figure out. The thing is, each candidate had pros and cons. In terms of money, McAuliffe was a machine, no doubt, but he also had a lot of baggage. As for McClellan, I personally voted for her in the Democratic primary, but she didn’t run a scintillating or successful race by any stretch of the imagination, so why would we think she would have done so in the general election? As for Carroll Foy, she definitely ran a strong primary campaign, raising a ton of money and finishing second to McAuliffe, but she also ran a very left-leaning campaign, one that Republicans would have pounced on for sure. So it’s hard to know, but it’s interesting to think about…
- What if McAuliffe had talked a lot more about the tremendous record of success achieved by Gov. Northam and the Democratic-controlled House of Delegates, instead of his own governorship or Youngkin=Trump? I think that, in the end, this might have helped McAuliffe a lot, to basically run as the McAuliffe/Northam administration and to totally own the accomplishments of the past four years. Why didn’t McAuliffe do that? Hard to say, but of course he would have had to admit, at least implicitly, that as governor, he wasn’t able to get a lot done legislatively, given the 2:1 conservative Republican majority in the House of Delegates for the entire four years. And that might have been a hard thing for him to swallow. But in the end, I’d argue that McAuliffe could have taken credit for laying the ground for Northam’s successes and for Democrats taking back the General Assembly in 2019, thus leading to hundreds of progressive bills. To me, that would have been a lot more inspiring than a constant drumbeat of Youngkin=Trump.
- What if Democrats had decided to really push back, early and hard, against the building Republican “Critical Race Theory” false narrative? Instead of letting this get a head of steam, what if Democrats had relentlessly corrected the record on this, and also made an affirmative case for the crucial importance of teaching about ALL of American history, and for NOT covering up the darker chapters (including slavery, “Jim Crow,” lynchings, systemic racism, etc.)? Instead, the Democratic attitude seemed to be that this was just a minority of far-right activists in the darker recesses of the right-wing internet, Newsmax, Fox, etc., and that nobody else would listen to it. Except…how did that attitude work out for John Kerry with the infamous “Swift Boat” attacks against him in 2004? How does ignoring this “culture war” crap EVER work out for Democrats?
- Finally, what if McAuliffe hadn’t made that horrendous gaffe (“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach”) in the second televised gubernatorial debate? I mean, McAuliffe was talking about the “Beloved” bill and parents telling schools which books to allow or not allow their kids to read. But it came across…not well, to put it mildly. I was live blogging that debate, and when McAuliffe did that, I gasped, was like “what on earth is he doing?” I figured he’d quickly clarify that of COURSE he believes parents should be HEAVILY involved in their kids’ education, in a positive/constructive way, of course. But he didn’t ever really do that, either in the debate or – as far as I ever heard – afterwards. Nor did the campaign ever clearly correct that. So, not surprisingly, what happened was that the Youngkin campaign gleefully POUNCED on that mistake, with god-knows-how-many advertising dollars, and…the rest is history?
Anyway, this is just a short list. What other factors are on your mind following the 2021 Virginia elections?
P.S. One more that someone just reminded me of – “What if we’d put a non-binding marijuana referendum on the ballot?” Would that have driven youth turnout, which was VERY weak this election? Could that have made the difference? Anyway, there was no good reason not to have put this languaqge on the ballot!