The dust has settled from the GOP Advance, Saxman has bailed, Marshall is talking, and Gilmore is still running. However, at the Advance and at GOP meeting from Hampton Roads to the Shenandoah Valley a singular thought is being repeated…
“Ken Cuccinelli’s victory proves that a conservative can win in Northern Virginia”
This observation is not the primary lesson to be learned from the Cooch-Hoot throwdown. I think there is a lesson, but it is much closer to the ground. The real lesson-and, I suggest, concern-is that conservatives have to run nearly perfect campaigns to win in Northern Virginia.
I first addressed this a few weeks ago, and mentioned the signifiance of the effort:
Why should Cooch be hailed for running the ideal campaign? Because it is something that GOP candidates seem increasingly unable to do. GOP candidates in tough races almost always give in to the urge to do something cute that they are sure will just devestate the opposition-but more typically puts a final nail in their own coffin. Instead, Cooch stuck to the basics and did not allow blood lust to overcome his judgement. He did not succumb to over-eagerness or being over-cutesy. He went back to the basics to win the campaign, and now he is going back to the Senate.
The bad news in all this is that Cuccinelli did win, but he only won narrowly. In fact, at the time of this post he is preparing for a recount-that is how close his win was. 37,100 votes cast, and he won by 92 votes. That is a pretty thin reed to hang your hat on.
I think it was even closer that that. I have gotten the word through the grapevine that only Hoot’s gaffe’s kept Cooch going. I have been told that Cooch polling showed that he was dead in the water in finding an issue to bring against Hoot-every issue they polled on brought more support to her than to him. Then she started the “hypothetical question”, “waffle”, “no set position” stuff…and then Cooch could question the Hoot on competence and not ideology.
I bring this up less to replay the campaign than to show how doggone close run the thing was…and to suggest this is the real lesson. Cooch ran a campaign that mobilized his supporters. He neither unecessarily antagonized those unfavorable to him nor did he do something that made him look stupid (“Hitler” ad) or hurtful (JMDD/opponents address) or racist ( “macaca”) or limpid (Earley 2001) or anything else that might push undecided voters to his opponent. This path has, unfortunately, been the path followed by too many GOP candidates in recent years.
While a clear set of principles, positions, and issues are needed, the GOP does not have a hope of winning upcoming elections without running capable, competent campaigns…and that is the lesson that should be drawn from the Cooch’s likely win in the 2007 elections.