The RPV leadership has chosen a convention as the means to choose the GOP senate nominee for the 2008 elections to succeed John Warner. Many have already written this is an edge for Jim Gilmore. Some think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread; others think it merely bad…and others a recipe for disaster. After some ruminating, I think the real issue is how the convention will be run. The delegate advantage clearly goes to a downstate conservative, while the rules almost promise ill will post convention.
If the GOP hopes to have any shot in 2008, they have to look at the rules and the lay of the land with clear eyes and a full heart (h/t to FNL!) and act accordingly.
Likely Attendees-Advantage Downstate Conservative
A convention generally spells trouble for Tom Davis or anyone who is or is perceived as being less than 100% “conservative”. Experience has shown that the folks who turn out for the nominating phase for the GOP or for the Democrats tend to be more extreme than the general populace. A Democratic primary/convention tends to bring out voters who are more liberal than the mainstream voter, and a GOP exercise brings out voters who are more conservative. If you doubt that, chat with Senator LaMont from Connecticut. Comparatively speaking, Tom Davis will be the less conservative candidate at a GOP convention and can only hope to win if the delegates vote electability and not ideology.
Delegate Apportionment-Advantage Downstate Conservative
Even if electability emerges over ideology, Davis is hurt by the method of delegate apportionment. Delegates are not apportioned by population, or even by registered voters. Delegates are apportioned based on the GOP vote in each unit during recent statewide elections. The 2008 convention votes will be apportioned based on-completely or in part-how a county/city voted in the 2004 Presidential election and the 2005 Gubernatorial election (as per Article II, Section 14 of the RPV Plan).
In these elections GOP candidates got whacked in Fairfax County, and disemboweled in Alexandria and Arlington. The result is that the delegate totals will be slanted toward downstate where GOP candidates ran stronger. Now one cannot dismiss the huge chunk of votes that Northern Virginia will have in any circumstances, but the delegate apportionment method will in 2008 give a pound for pound edge to downstate jurisdictions.
Potential for delegate dissension-Advantage Mark Warner
But the real problem is the turbulence caused by conventions. It may be that a convention allows you to keep candidate differences in-house and not as public. The problem is that if you don’t have the people to do the basic campaign tasks, you lose…and to my knowledge the Virginia GOP has not allowed two practices that will ensure some bad blood will come from this convention. Those practices? Instructing and Slating.
As I wrote almost two years ago:
The ill will, the bad blood, the hurt feelings…some of it is caused by the trench warfare nature of the convention process. But one particular aspect of the process is as slimy as a worm, venomous as a snake, and as destructive as a claymore.It is the practice of “Instruction”. A Mass Meeting can instruct its delegation to vote for a certain candidate. This means candidate X can have a bare majority of delegates in each of a bare majority of voting units-lets say 51%- and no support in the other units, and because of instruction can win the nomination…even though if all the delegates voted their conscience candidate X might only draw 30% of the delegate votes.I have experienced the joys of Instruction. I have been told whom to vote for, I have even been kept out of delegations. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t pretty, and it did not inspire me to hit the phone banks the following fall…pretty much defeating the purpose of a convention.
Slating is perhaps even worse…this is where-using the same scenario above-a bare majority votes to send a delegation that is only comprised of delegates who support the candidate of that bare majority.
It should be noted that those in favor of a convention repeatedly talk about how a convention keeps the delegate choice within the party. It doesn’t…it only tends to keep the choice within the party. Your run of the mill party loyalist will turn out for a primary, but the time commitment and cost of attending a convention requires a greater degree of devotion to participate. Until we have party registration in Virginia, the most blue blood democrat can file to be a delegate to the state convention and there is nothing that can stop them. But if you allow instruction and slating, then there is a good chance that even the most die hard party activist can face circumstances so frustrating they go fishing during the general election campaign.
You may think, well, this is no real problem…folks will pull together for the good of the party!
Not if the hurt runs deep enough. Again as I wrote two years ago:
…Conventions cannot be counted on to spawn unity. They can be counted on to create third party candidates (Marshall Coleman as an independent in 1994), and for factions to jump ship when their man did not win (1977, 1981, 1985). Of course, my favorite move were those who simply sat on their hands. In 1982 Kevin Miller of Harrisonburg was the upset winner of the GOP nomination for the VA-6 over a field of five candidates, including the favorite Ray Garland, state senator from Roanoke who led on the first three ballots and lost on the fourth. Garland’s supporters in Roanoke felt the 6th district seat belonged to Roanoke, and they sat on their hands throughout the campaign. The plan worked, and Miller lost to Jim Olin (Democrat of Roanoke!) by barely 1000 votes. Garland lost his state senate seat in 1983, got the GOP congressional nomination in 1984, and in the year of the Reagan 49 state landslide lost to Olin by 54%-46%. The GOP reclaimed the seat in 1992, meaning that for the last fifty years the only time the democratic party held the seat was in the wake of the Garlandites sitting out the 1982 election.
Where does this leave the GOP? It means that the GOP has to take steps now to give it the best chances of success in 2008.
First, specifically prohibit slating and/or instructing delegations for the 2008 state convention. Let everyone attend who files to be a delegate. If a delegation has so many folks that votes have to be split past 1/5 of a delegate vote (the minimum), then the first who files get first chairs, and the balance become alternates. If you want to allow the party loyalists decide on the nominee, then let them in the building and let them make the choice.
Second, face facts about the likely nature of the nominee based on the delegate selection process. It will take some serious time and money to get Tom Davis past the downstate delegates. By the same token, Jim Gilmore, who has run statewide twice, is already polling a 2-1 loss to Mark Warner, and that is before the stories of his obstinacy, the incomplete car tax repeal, and other fond reminders of the Gilmore administration come to light. There are moderate/conservative voters in Northern Virginia who will not vote or Gilmore-even if they like his positions-because of the residual taste from his governorship. Also, Gilmore has not run statewide in ten years…and a lot of changes have happened since then.
Where does this leave the GOP? Have Davis run for reelection in the 11th and pass on the senate race, and go downstate for the senate candidate. I mentioned Eric Cantor (and was called a “mouth breather” for it), but it could be Randy Forbes or Bob Goodlatte, too. The bottom line is the GOP needs someone who can run strong downstate, and can hold the conservative vote in Northern Virginia, and perhaps make inroads there also. Gilmore has too much baggage, so look elsewhere down state.
It is critical that a convention, which by its nature will pull in more conservative attendees and will have delegate voting strength that tilts south, come up with a candidate who can compel Mark Warner to run for office. Tom Davis is the person who could do that, but I fear the convention structure will be too much to overcome. Gilmore has too much baggage, and will set new GOP base vote limits in NoVA. More important, he will drag down GOP candidates with him. A stronger candidate might lose to Mark Warner, but by keeping him busy Warner will have to commit his resources to the Senate campaign and not use them in Virginia House races.
Leave things the way they are, and risk seeing the party savaged next year…change the rules and look beyond the assume candidates, and the year can yet be salvaged. That is just the way it is…change the rules and look beyond Davis and Gilmore, or I fear the Virginia GOP will face a really bad year in 2008.