Va-10 Recap…and lessons not learned

I was not going to revisit the recent debacle, but some posts at RK suggest there are none so blind as those that cannot see.  This concept never seems to sink in for the political masterminds out there…and at their hazard.

RK reluctantly identified Congressman Frank Wolf as one of the Virginia winners in this election cycle, and today Josh Cernilla offers a Va-10 recap. Josh assigns the lion’s share of the responsibility for the loss to the Federstaff, and bemoans the failure to connect with the Obama surge and the netroots, etc.

Maybe…but frankly the whole thing seems to be an effort to save Ms. Feder from marginalization and to keep her alive for 2010.  Moreover, it seems like an effort to to analyze a political situation as the writer wishes it were rather than how it actually is.

First, it is more than a little bizarre to me that RK and the Federistas attacked Frank Wolf for not “doing something” during the “cane incident”, yet now suggest that Ms. Feder had anything less than full responsibility for the way her campaign was run. Candidates either are responsible for what their staff’s do, or they are not.  Sauce for the goose, saunce for the gander.

Second, this election suggests that while a whole wave of new voters came in, they are not yet completely in the Democratic fold.  A comment from Just Saying in the “Winners” line of comments said “There was simply no excuse for a Democrat to be voting for Frank Wolf this election. “  Perhaps, but if that is a fact then the only logical inference is that folks came in looking for change and do not consider themselves tied to the Democratic Party…which means that the GOP has voters they have a shot at if they approach them correctly and-perhaps-go back to the small government and individual liberty focus of Reagan republicanism.

Then, again, maybe there was a reason for Democrats to vote for Frank Wolf, and perhaps that is the missing link in the analysis being done by too many campaign operatives on both sides.  That same “Winners” string saw the following comment:

When I was canvassing my neighborhood and nearby areas this summer and fall, it quickly became apparent that Judy Feder had no chance against Frank Wolf. Wolf has done too many favors for too many individuals and communities in the 10th CD in his 28 years. Even a lot of strong Obama and Warner supporters told me that they felt obligated to vote for Wolf, who they thought had done a good job for the district.

Did Mrs. Feder run less than an inspiring campaign? Yes, and it was a campaign that was occasionally juvenile in the way it approached things. Money was in great supply yet not spent well, as shown by the massive difference in cash-on-hand come in the final month of the campaign.

But this tendency of the experts to quote demographics and voter registration numbers only?  It effectively assumes one can  look at these districts and analyze in a vacuum. The experts act as if they are dealing with a tabulae rasaand sheer statistical analysis will carry the day. For instance, a frequently quoted stat heard over the last two years is “there are tons of new voters coming into the tenth who are young, educated, and have never heard of Frank Wolf”.  Every commenter or anlysist who said this quickly listed the reasons these new voters  would certainly vote against him.

This analysis always neglected to note these are living, breathing creatures who interact with those who may have been there longer, and just might have heard about things Congressman Wolf and his staff had accomplished for his constituents. OR they may even have their own issues that the Congressman’s office took care of.

The new folks are not living in a vacuum, nor are they likely strict ideologues…and these blanket observations that the “new folks will vote democrat” or “no excuse for a democrat…” or “Judy would clearly be a better representative…” are silly.

Of course, these comments in Va-10 are not generally unique. Partisans and analysts on both sides of tend to come up with arguments and assumptions that really are just reflections of what they want to happen, not what is likely to happen. Voters vote their concerns, their pocketbooks, and their dreams…and when those are threatened, they vote their fears. It doesn’t matter if they have lived in a district for 50 years or 50 days. To assume they will vote one way or the other based on history or demographic theory is silly and short sighted.

Voters vote for effective government.  In Va-10, Frank Wolf has represented his district effectively for many years.  As I wrote two years ago on RK:

You take that type of constituent service, faithfully rendered, and multiply it by tens of thousands of constituents over more than two decades in office, and without even the faintest smear of scandal, and you have a pretty hard incumbent to take out-even with massive national trends running against his party.

Both sides, and especially the GOP, need to get back to dealing with the realities of what people need and want instead of how they like to think they are or how they hope they will be. It is good politics, and good government.

We shall see if that lesson is learned…in Va-10, in the Commonwealth, and across the nation as a new administration comes into office.

UPDATE: Just for clarification sake, I should add that since I posed this there is a more recent comment on the “Va-10 postmortem” on RK the poster identifed as “Just Saying” (whom I quoted above) has identified themselves as a campaing consultant and apparently believes that beating Frank Wolf is a 4 million dollar proposition.

UPDATE #2:  The string has continued unabated over at RK, and various comments flying back and forth.  But the one thing they never seem to get around to is how difficult it is to defeat an incumbent who is honest and responsive to constituent requests.

Once again, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

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4 thoughts on “Va-10 Recap…and lessons not learned

  1. I actually think Feder’s staff deserves considerable blame. After building three years of name recognition in the district, Feder’s staff was able to actually go backwards. The campaign had no message (staff’s fault), Feder didn’t approve her appearance and tone from 2006 (staff’s fault), they thought running a blog-oriented campaign in mostly rural VA-10 was a winning strategy when it clearly is not (again, staff’s fault). They didn’t know who they needed to reach. In this district, they needed to find and message to Obama-Warner-Wolf voters. You don’t speak to them by sending out mailings suggesting Frank Wolf is too old for office (staff’s fault). You certainly don’t speak to voters in Frederick County, Winchester, Clarke County or Western Loudoun County by having in-your-face trackers (staff’s fault).

    Over at RK, Judy’s staff is being pretty defensive. They should be defensive not because Judy lost but because they didn’t put her in a position to improve on 2006 and make a realistic challenge to Wolf. The blame should fall squarely on Luke McFarland. He thought he was running a race in an urban area where Lowell’s Farewell Frank blog would make a difference and viral videos like the caning incident would help. What McFarland didn’t see is that this is a district where word of mouth is more important than blog noise.

    Overall, the campaign had no strategy to communicate to the voters they needed to communicate to, they targeted the wrong voters and they thought they were running in Fairfax when they were running in a mostly rural district.

    All of this and all of the blame should fall on the shoulders of Luke McFarland.

  2. As always Bwana, you are respectful and rather thoughtful, even if I disagree much of the time with your take on things.

    For what it’s worth, my assessment about the $4 million is specifically becauase Congressman Wolf is so well liked. I don’t entirely agree with you that his standing with consituents is solely based on his honesty and responsiveness to constituent requests. Its’ also the effect of a very well branded politician with a fairly shrewd sense of politics. Given what I do for a living I mean that as compliment not as an insult to the Congressman and his staff.

    That said, what’s going on over at RK certainly isn’t very productive and I wish they had chosen to give a much more respectful assessment than they did. Thank you, again, for always leading by example.

  3. Is it that it’s not “productive,” Just Saying, or is it that it doesn’t serve your interests because you consulted on the campaign. All campaigns make mistakes. Are you able to point to at least one mistake the Feder staff made?

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