A spin around the blogosphere yesterday found two thought provoking posts about the November elections, which then got me thinking…which is typically a dangerous thing. I imagine the smoke produced by my cranial cacophony could be seen from Bladensburg to Blacksburg and points in between.
At NLS, Ben Tribbett recounts his deep background interviews with knowledgeable folks in both parties and their senate predictions. He produced The List, a prioritization of the nine competitive state senate races in order of their importance for a party to win a Senate majority.
With the GOP currently holding 23 of 40 seats, the Democrats need to be +4 to take an absolute majority.
Let’s set that in abeyance…now, over at Power Concedes, Brimur contends this will be a wave election with big election gains for the Democrats. His primary evidence for this is polling data he has seen. Without knowing the basis of the polling he refers to, of course we have no real feel for how valid his contention is. But if he is right, then the democrats could go 6-7 deep in their list, which would about reverse the GOP/Dem numbers.
I don’t have the benefit of polling data. However, I suspect there might be a wave-but not for the reasons Brimur cites.
My understanding of a wave election is one where there is massive public discomfort or distaste for something, and a wave of votes registers for one party or the other. November 2006 was certainly a democratic wave.
November 2007 is a little different. There is no statewide race or referendum in play, and at this moment there is no single issue the Democrats have pushed where they can show that the GOP is (a) Clearly at fault AND (b) the Democrats have proposed an alternative but been rebuffed by the GOP majority. A real wave election has folks wanting to vote and register their discontent, and I don’t see that kind of groundswell happening. The races we have are contests where local factors or demographics come into play. That means this is likely to be a low turnout election, with GOTV making the difference.
I think this year will be unique…I have a hunch there will be a wave, but one that is created by the GOP itself in the way it selected candidates, the manner in which it has handled the various campaigns, and the way it has failed to clearly define itself. Now I don’t have an opinion on all the races, but a few in the State senate will give you flavor for what may happen. Consider these races:
Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis v. Chap Petersen
You may recall this district was created to push Leslie Byrne out of the state Senate and create a safe GOP seat. It was tailor made for JMDD, and there was an expectation that between her experience and fund-raising she could create a strong hold on the district. However, JMDD did not push hard in 2003. She won a close election, and seemingly did not do the spade work needed to shore up her support in her district. Now she is up against Chap! in a district that went for Kaine and then for Webb to the tune of about 60% of the vote. When you have a GOP candidate attacking a democrat based on where that candidate goes to church, then you know things are out of kilter. JMDD has not shown she has the ability to out work Chap!, and in a state senate campaign that hard work goes a long way toward obviating a $$ edge. Edge to Chap, but this could have been a much safer GOP seat.
Sen. Jay O’Brien v. George Barker
I suspect Jay is going to lose this one, and because of a local matter. Fairfax has trended blue in the last few elections, and normally O’Brien would have the benefit of a more GOP vote in Prince William County to shore him up. However, I suggest the nomination of Faisal Gill in House 51 is going to cut O’Brien’s numbers in Prince William County at a time when Jay needs strong GOP numbers on the other side of the Occoquan to win. Maybe he wins, but win or lose his burden was made heavier by the failure of the 51st committee to try to get a better candidate on the ballot.
Bob Fitzsimmonds v. Sen. Chuck Colgan
This seat should be very winnable for the GOP candidate. Colgan has never been a power in the Senate, and he has never been a forceful personality. As PW County Board chair in the 1970’s he couldn’t reign in the four horsemen, and he got this Senate seat because Selwyn Smith refused to campaign against Stan Parris in 1974, and a year later Herb Harris moved against him. Colgan couldn’t get major road funding for PWCo when the Democrats were in the majority, and yet he has stayed in office.
Colgan was close friends with the late Harry Parrish, and they virtually ran as a ticket. Both were aviators, both were PWC/Manassas residents. Parrish was Mayor of Manassas while Colgan was on the PWC BOS. The long result of this relationship is a wealth of GOP voters over the age of fifty or so in the 29th who will vote for Colgan. Had the GOP gone with a Carrol Weimer or Hal Parrish, Jr, I halfway think Colgan would not have run. Instead, Bob Fitzsimmonds got the nomination he missed in 2003. Fitzsimmonds backed Steve Chapman over Harry Parrish in the 2005 primary, and he backed Faisal Gill over Julie Lane in 2007. He is very much the representative of the social conservative portion of the GOP, and carries that banner proudly.
But still Colgan trips him up. Colgan is a devout Catholic, and solidly pro-life. Colgan has consistently been able to attract pro-life voters, and will likely do so again. Colgan is a member of the All Saints parish, which I have been told is the largest catholic congregation in Northern Virginia. It also has a large Latino membership, which puts an unusual spin on the immigration issue.
I have a feeling that all the issues that Fitzsimmonds wants to use cut both for and against him, from social issues to immigration. Plus Colgan has a longstanding record as a family friendly official, going back to the days when he pushed for and got passage of the “Hustler” bill, which said that soft porn mags displayed in stores (focus was on 7-11) had to be covered except for the title. I have a hunch the title of President Pro-Tempore is in his future, but this seat is and has been winnable for the GOP…and I have a hunch that win may be put off until 2011.
Jill Holtzman Vogel v. Karen Schultz
This district should be solidly GOP, but with the party infighting, ongoing questions over the manner in which the Mark Tate indictment was handled, plus the non-support of retiring GOP senator Russ Potts for the GOP nominee means that precious resources have to be spent on holding a seat that should have been locked down by last July. When there is last month chatter of chaos, that just does not bode well for the GOP.
Sen. Ken Cuccinelli v. Janet Oleszek
This race has so many unusual aspects it is difficult to list them all. One would think that The Cooch would be in deep trouble, what with Fairfax trending strong blue, etc. He does have a benefit in having a district that encompasses many of the more GOP portions of Fairfax County. Plus, The Hoot has not put on a strong campaign. While The Cooch takes positions, The Hoot issues generalities and sounds like she is still trying to figure out what she stands for. If there is anyone that will get a big GOP base turnout, it is Cooch…while I am not yet getting the feeling that Hoot is firing up the democratic base as yet. In debates she has shown a willingness to waffle, and when asked how she would vote on matters that came up in the 2007 GA session, she refuses to, saying she won’t answer hypothetical questions. In an area that is trending blue, I think the normal concept of incumbent and challenger gets switched-and I think the longer it takes The Hoot to put away The Cooch, the more likely it is he wins reelection.
I have to think that a stronger Democratic candidate would already have this one sewn up.
So, you see how it goes. Races being affected by the failure of one side or the other to run a strong campaign, create the environmenet to run a strong campaign, or to put up candidates with the best chances of winning.
My blogosphere idol James Atticus Bowden might jump in here to say it is more important to run candidates who stand for something than to run candidates who can win…and he would be right. But both parties in Virginia have over the last five years have pursued power rather than embracing principle, and at some point you have to dance with the date you brought.
I don’t know enough about the other races to offer commentary, but I am willing to bet the same type things hold up. Folks are making decisions based not on a massive discontent with one side or the other, but based on a perception shaped by the way the candidate and the local parties have handled things.
For both sides, this perception matter is exacerbated by the fact that neither party has offered a strong vision of where they want to lead Virginia. Such a vision not only tells us what the parties intend to do, but it creates a safety net. If you know where a party stands, a voter could vote for that party despite disagreement on an issue because he/she knows they are in agreement with said party on the bulk of issues. However, neither party has propounded such a vision. The result is there is no voter safety net to keep voters in place. Both parties want power, and both parties have made piece meal decisions that when fit together do not create a mosaic, or even a solved puzzle, but some misconfigured Rube Goldberg creation that inspires neither confidence or solid support. Being the party in the minority, the Democrats will benefit from discontent with the status quo…but it will be a default support, not an enthusiastic support.
So I suggest there will be a wave of sorts, but that it is not the result of widespread unhappiness with the GOP. In this GOTV election it will be a piecemeal wave built of the local flops, fiascos, and campaign miscues.
I will take it a step further and offer predictions…Assuming that Ben is right, and that the Senate sits 16-15 for the Democrats with 9 competitive seats out there, here is how I see things shaking out (Red=GOP, Blue=DEM).
1. Ralph Smith over Mike Breiner
2. Jill Holtzman Vogel over Karen Schultz
3. Ken Cuccinelli over Janet Oleszek
4. Ralph Northam over Nick Rerras
5. Albert Pollard over Richard Stuart (this is my wild hair pick)
6. George Barker over Jay O’Brien
7. Chuck Colgan over Bob Fitzsimmonds
8. John Miller over Tricia Stall
9. Chap! over JMDD
That is 16+6=22 Democratic seats, a five seat pickup…and Dick Saslaw gets the majority leader title…however, in terms of raw numbers you could flip the results in numbers 3 and 5 above and still have the dems with the same numbers.
I don’t know enough to make a prediction in the House beyond the fact that Jackson Miller will benefit from the blatantly false advertising and position changing of Jeannette Rishell to convincingly win his rematch with her, but I imagine that much of the same silliness described above in state senate races has happened in delegate races…but with the mollifying affect that those seats are up every two years, so I imagine the GOP is not in as dire straits. I do predict the GOP will fare poorly enough that Speaker Howell’s days are numbered.
That is how I see it on 10.5.2007…let’s see how it plays out. Will it finish this way? Maybe…maybe not. However, the GOP has dug itself a hole though its failure to communicate a vision, through its failure to create a unified message, and through the often ham handed way it selects candidates. If the above tidings come to pass, then the bill can be sent to RPV, ATTN: Party leadership, for they have failed to shore up the sandbags or strengthen the levees…and now they get to surf the wave.