GOP Convention Choice-Savaging the Party, or Salvaging 2008?

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.

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8 thoughts on “GOP Convention Choice-Savaging the Party, or Salvaging 2008?

  1. Let me address your categories one-by-one, bwana:

    1. You note that any nominating process brings out those “more extreme than the general populace.” You cite “Senator LaMont” of Connecticut as your example. Of course, LaMont was nominated by primary, so your point seems to be that there’s no real distinction between primaries vs. conventions as to ideology. At least, that’s what your facts would indicate.

    2. Apportionment is based on GOP vote, soooo, each unit has voting strength based upon Republican production. How is that a bad thing? Because it won’t produce a Republican nominee who blows in the wind to the satisfaction of NoVA voters?

    3. That’s a lot of Internet ether regarding slating and instruction. Why are you worried about it? First, I can’t even remember the last time it happened — certainly not since my first Virginia State convention in 1992, inclusive — and some units (like PWC since 1991) have a history of barring it outright. More importantly, since 2002, the RPV Party Plan bars slating and instructing (Art. VIII, Section H(4).

    By the way, Gilmore is currently polling BETTER than Tom Davis in a head-to-head with Mark Warner.

  2. Brother James-

    I am disappointed in you…I thought for sure you would be taking this time to be preparing for Randy mac and not blogging. Nonetheless, I am always glad to have you drop by!

    1. I think that is a fair statement…the nominating conventions will draw the more ideologically inclined within a party-history bears that out. The difference is the ease with which folks can participate. It is one thing to go in and vote, and yet another to take the time to file to a mass meeting, attend the mass meeting (which is not necessary, but many do nonetheless), and then attend a state convention. Then there is the expense of filing fees or whatever term the party uses to get money out of the delegates. The easier to participate, then the more people you will have particpate-and that helps build the party.

    Conventions contract your potential voters and make the process very personal…which makes it more likely for personal slights to drive people off…especially when there exists the ability to keep people from participating.

    2. I never said it was bad thing, simply that it was a fact to be considered in selecting a nominee.

    3. Art VIII, Section H(4) says:
    “4. No delegation shall vote under a unit rule at any Convention; nor shall any delegation be instructed on any vote at any convention.

    I do not see where this Article bars slating, which has all the drawbacks of instruction. And despite the 2002 amendment, I seem to recall slating going on in 2003 in the Mark Obenshain state senate nominating convention…so the evils are still there to be had. And slating delegations does not build a party.

    And yes, I do see where Gilmore (after two statewide races) is currently polling marginally ahead of Davis (who has never run statewide) head up with Warner (warner 61, Gilmore 31; Warner 63, Davis 28) in the recent WaPo poll. But the fact that Gilmore is running at that level after two statewide runs and Davis is close by despite never running statewide suggests that Davis has far more room for growth than Gilmore…and why Gilmore should not be the nominee, but Forbes, Cantor, etc.

  3. Alas, bwana, they didn’t let me take the field when I ATTENDED H-SC; the chances of doing so now are even more remote. Actually, the only prep for an H-SC football game that I need these days is to remember ice, and of course, all the fixins’ for a pitcher of Bloody Marys.

    Come to think of it, that’s all I needed way back when.

    As for No. 3, I suppose you’re right about slating, but so long as your delegates to a convention are elected, I suppose this possibility always exists, and it’s impossible to completely bar. But as I read the rule, instruction is always impermissible. Don’t know about the Obenshain convention; until last year’s blogger conference, my last interaction with him was at a party in his house at Tech back in ’83 or ’84.

    Perhaps you’re correct about the significance of those numbers. As I’ve said frequently, I like both Gilmore and Davis, and would support either for the seat (though Tom is making is more difficult lately).

  4. bwana, elections are no guarantee there will be no party infighting. Elections do not by themselves resolve disputes. Otherwise, our nation never would have had a civil war.

    As far as party infighting is concerned, whether we have convention or a primary really does not matter. What matters is how strongly party members prefer “their” candidate. Normally, what divides a party is an issue. Candidates pull a party apart based upon that issue.

    What issue does Tom Davis have, his mythical electability? That is nothing but a phony issue. Has Davis even run for statewide office? How does the fact that Davis carried his Northern Virginia district against a weak opponent prove he can carry the rest of state against strong Democrat?

    Why do people even bother to vote? Do we take the time to go to the polls because the candidates are electable or because the candidates stand for, and we believe they have the competence to deliver on, the causes we care about?

    If we run Davis against a relatively conservative Democrat, Mark Warner, why should conservatives bother to turn out to vote for Davis? Will conservatives turn out because Davis’s electability or because of the issues that separate these two men? What are those issues?

  5. Citizen Tom, I am not sure you read my post. Otherwise you would see that I am not leading out the brigade in favor of Congressman Davis.

    My comment to Brother James was a response to his observation that Gilmore led in the polls. My point was that if Gilmore after two statewide runs was only running marginally ahead of Davis, then that meant Davis had a greater capacity for growing his support.

    As far as party infighting goes, it does make a difference. There is a significant difference between the infighting that goes on between candidacies at long range adn the infighting that goes on face-to-face between partisans at a convention. I have seen it happen time and again.

    I urge to to read my entire post, where I say the best chance the GOP has is with a downstate conservative and lay out why. In fact, if you go back and read an even earlier post you will see that I think the bestg GOP chance for 2008 is running Davis in the 11th, Cantor for Congress, and Gilmore in the 7th. I think Jim Gilmore is a disastrous option for the GOP to run statewide in 2008, and I am not convinced Tom Davis can score big outside NoVa…but as noted in an earlier posting the room for growth in NOVA is not what folks would have us think exists.

    Actually, you have given me the seed for a future blog posting, and for that I am grateful.

  6. Pingback: A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES « Citizen Tom

  7. Well Bwana:
    Now that I am back in town and have had a chance to read, let me say this. Tom Davis is the only republican (conservative or otherwise)who has a shot against Mark Warner. I have never understood why some of the people within the Republican Party would rather win the battle to prove a point, and ultimately lose the war! THE ONLY THING LOSING THE WAR DOES IS MAKES US LOSERS!!! I think the last two statewide elections should have taught us at least that.
    We need some one who knows the Hill game and someone who is very adept at the “Art of the Deal” to manage the Halls of the US Senate and represent all of us. Tom is definately the man in that catagory. We need to remember, with Tom all Republicans (conservative or otherwise) have access. With Mark Warner we have zip, nada… a great big nothing!!
    One Final point, why are we wasting time on this with three weeks left to go before some important legislative elections that have a more direct effect on our daily lives here in Virginia and Republican Control of the General Assembly hang in the balance. Let’s keep our eye on the ball for right now.

    Bwana Fan In Vienna

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