Is Jim the new Maurice?

George Santayana wrote his way into Bartlett’s Quotations with “…when experience is not retained, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Santayana’s works are not widely read in Virginia, at least not in the political realm.

You may be familiar with the scenario. A major political party faces an exceptionally tough candidate in the fall elections. They are desperate for a candidate who can bring excitement to the race and put pressure on the opposition, a man who is being mentioned as a potential President of the USA. In a breathtaking leap of faith they choose not to select a tried and true party regular, a man who was a long time contributor and Washington insider. Instead, they choose a charismatic figure with only loose ties to their party who is seen as a way to energize the party and perhaps pull the upset of the century.

Sound familiar?

When Virginia Democrats narrowly chose Jim Webb over Harris Miller to oppose George Allen in the 2006 US Senate election in Virginia, they moved over well plumbed territory…the GOP passed this way almost twenty years ago.

Few Virginians remember Maurice Dawkins. In fact, more folks probably remember Steve Miller’s “Maurice” and his ” pompitous of love” than remember Maurice Dawkins. He only rates a stub in at Wikipedia.com, not a full article. Mr. Dawkins has not been involved in Virginia politics for nearly a generation, and passed away in October 2001.

But Maurice Dawkin’s senate candidacy might be the template by which Jim Webb should not run his campaign.

Dawkins was an African-American minister and civil rights activist. He was a former president of the LA NAACP, and was the West Coast coordinator the Dr. King’s March on Washington in 1963. He responded to the conservative self-reliance message of Ronald Reagan, switched parties, and became an active republican. He ran for the Virginia GOP nomination for Lt. Governor in 1985, running third of five behind John Chichester and Marshall Coleman. His oratory and stump skills made him a bright star.

Three years later former Governor Chuck Robb announced for the US Senate seat that was being vacated by Paul Trible (who-although he denied it-seemed to be bailing out for fear of losing to Robb. Trible said he wanted to spend more time with his family…so much so that he turned around and ran for governor in 1989). John Warner confidant and long time GOP activist Andy Wahlquist announced for the GOP nomination. Many feared his less than fiery persona would not be enough to press Robb. The idea was to at least keep Robb tied down to Virginia and prevent him from campaigning outside the Commonwealth in pursuit of a future Democratic presidential nomination.

Then someone remembered what a great speaker and motivator Maurice Dawkins was…plus he was black! What a marvelous candidate to put up, one who could motivate and mobilize the party, and also strike at a core democratic constituency!…

…and the sirens began to sing, ” Run, Maurice, Run! We’ll back you! We’ll raise money for you! With the GOP base and the black vote you can surely pull, you can win this race! Run, Maurice, Run!”

So the party threw the dice, and Dawkins, who was nominated by convention in 1988. He waved a baseball bat as he accepted the nomination, promising to put the wood to Chuck Robb.

That never happened. His campaign was hopelessly amateurish, the base never responded to him, the hoped for inroads into the African American vote never happened, and the massive fundraising that was promised didn’t.

Robb beat Dawkins 71%-28%, setting the level of the GOP base vote for a generation…and in a race where GHW Bush crushed Dukakis in Virginia.

It’s 18 years later…the GOP has incumbent Senator (and former governor) George Allen seeking reelection, and potentially the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. The Democrats, desperate for a candidate who can beat up on George Allen, reach beyond party regular Harris Miller, a long-time contributor and party regular.

…and the sirens began to sing…

In a heated-and even vicious- primary chose James Webb, former Reagan Secretary of the Navy and endorser of George Allen in 2000. The Democrats did not seem to think Miller could pressure Allen, and chose Webb, former republican appointee who could motivate and mobilize the party, and theoretically make inroads into some core GOP constituencies.

Webb seems to strike a chord with many he meets, but his campaign machinery has been a mess, even amateurish. As of the 7-4-2006 time frame, his fundraising lags far behind Allen.

Webb is going to run better than Dawkins, this we can all be certain of. Nonethless, the parallels to date between Dawkins and Webb are striking.

It is still summer, and there is no doubt in today’s polarized atmosphere that democrats will come out in force for their nominees in November and that Webb will score far better than Dawkins. However, 48% of the vote loses just as neatly as 28% of the vote.

It will be interesting to see if in November Webb manages to write a new page in Virginia history, or serves as a hyperlink to days gone by and is remembered as the second coming of Maurice Dawkins
*********************

Postscript: It is suggested below that I misused the word “Enervate”. To my chagrin, Democrat from Arlington is right on the money. On the first point, you are absolutely correct, and it will be changed.

To those tuning in late, I used the word “enervate”, which I have always though a derivative of “energize”. It is actually a synonym of deplete.

Dictionary.com says [“Sometimes people mistakenly use enervate to mean “to invigorate” or “to excite” by assuming that this word is a close cousin of the verb energize. In fact enervate does not come from the same source as energize (Greek energos, “active”). It comes from Latin nervus, “sinew.” Thus enervate means “to cause to become ‘out of muscle’,” that is, “to weaken or deplete of strength.”]…and the early phrase “enervate and energize” has been amended to just read “energize”

On his/her latter point…nope, that stays.

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2 thoughts on “Is Jim the new Maurice?

  1. Enervate doesn’t mean what you think it does. And you probably want to rewrite the sentence that ends “. . . reach beyond party regular Harris Miller, a long-time contributor and party regular.” Otherwise very interesting.

  2. You didn’t have to post my comment, but fair enough. I didn’t mean a substantive rewrite to that sentence, I meant a stylistic one such that the sentence would read:

    “The Democrats, desperate for a candidate who can beat up on George Allen, reach beyond Harris Mller, a long-time contributor and party regular.”

    I just meant that if you removed the first instance of the phrase “party regular”, which seems redundant in its current construction, the sentence would be a bit less clunky, unless I’ve missed some subtler meaning.

    At any rate, I’m sure you had hoped your post would spark more interesting comments than nit-picking copy edits. Sadly, I was all of eight when Maurice Dawkins ran and this is first time I’ve heard of him, so I couldn’t proffer an alternative perspective on your facts.

    I would suggest this however:
    48% may lose just as neatly as 28%, but it doesn’t mean quite the same thing. I suspect if Webb were to lose with 48%, Virginia would not only receive considerably more attention for the ’08 senate race (assuming Warner retires), it might also garner more Presidential attention than it’s seen in, oh, my lifetime at least. If Webb were to get only 28% of the vote, not only would analysts conclude it remains firmly in Republican hands for federal elections, but would also serve as a substantial catapult for Allen’s presidential ambitions as well.

    Yes, if there’s anything our President has taught us, it’s that you don’t have to win a landslide to govern as though you had one — but I also suspect the shifting political terrain of the country (and we’ll surely know more about how much the terrain has actually shifted come November) suggests that there are consequences to that approach as well.

    Elected government is a funny thing. On the one hand, you want to elect leaders — strong figures who have vision, who can propel a populace in directions it might not have gone on its own. On the other hand, you want to elect representatives who will serve as the populace’s proxy in the halls of power — poll-watchers, as they’re so derisively labeled.

    I would love to see somebody try to formulate a coherent formula concerning when an elected official should lead, and when an elected official should carry out the will of the people. (I suppose one could argue that anything said elected official does is “the will of the people”, but that’s an argument through definition and not terribly interesting.)

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