The Tragedy that Made Careers

I was ruminating on the ascent of Creigh Deeds, and a little lightbulb exploded in my head…and it occurred to me that but for one terrible life turn, the Commonwealth would likely have been spared both Tim Kaine and Creigh Deeds.

I refer, of course, to the untimely passing of Emily Couric.

Emily Couric defeated Ed Robb in 1995 and quickly developed a loyal following in the Democratic Party.  Following her reelection in 1999 she made it clear she would be a candidate for the Dem nomination for Lt. Gov in 2001, and her popularity was such that most pundits saw her getting the nomination unopposed.

Then lightning struck.  Senator Couric was diagnored with pancreatic cancer came in July 2000.  While she took on the co-chairmanship of the State Democratic party, she gave up her LTgov candidacy.  Senator Couric died in October 2001.

With her withdrawal the LG field opened wide, and the Mayor of Richmond became a player.  He was little known outside the city.  He became mayor by virtue of winning a ward election to the City Council and then being tagged by his council members to be mayor.  The Mayor leveraged that small base, won a plurality primary, got a weak GOP opponent in the fall, and emerged as Lt Governor of Virginia-and four years later permanently dropped “The Mayor” in favor of a different title…”The Gov”.  As you know, this is the story of Tim Kaine’s rise to power.

Meanwhile, back in Central/Western Virginia, they held a special election to determine who would succeed the late Senator Couric.  Waldo Jaquith tells the story:

In 2001, after Sen. Emily Couric’s death, a special election was held to determine who would fill out her term. The 25th senate district contains Charlottesville, of course, so we knew that we could just select a nominee from among ourselves. The folks we expected stepped up to vie for the nomination: former Mayor Nancy O’Brien, City Councilor Meredith Richards, Al Weed…plus some delegate from Bath County (wherever that is), Creigh Deeds. We held the nominating convention in Charlottesville one Saturday morning, for which it was pretty clear that a woman was going to win, it was just a question of which one. But then we arrived that morning. Del. Deeds had filled a whole bus with folks from Alleghany, Bath, Buckingham, Buena Vista, Covington, and Rockbridge (not a single one of which any of us Charlottesville muckity-mucks could have picked out on a map.) He had slick-looking brochures, palm cards, and stickers. None of our candidates were even close. When we went into the balloting process, damned if that Deeds fellow didn’t lick everybody in the first round of voting, getting a majority of votes on the first ballot. He knew that the voting would be weighted by municipality, he knew how to campaign—not the deal-cutting like in Charlottesville, but really campaign—and he sure knew how make folks underestimate him. We never saw him coming, but we sure adopted him as one of our own real quick. Just a few weeks later he licked his Republican opponent in a landslide victory…

As you know, two days ago that same Creigh Deeds won the Democratic nomination to succeed Tim Kaine.

In my lifetime Virginia has often had its political waters roiled by an untimely passing. Sarge Reynolds death from cancer gave Henry Howell his shot at Lt. Gov and then Governor and accelerated the movement of conservative Democrats to the GOP. Rick Obenshains death in 1978 allowed John Warner to run (and win) in that year’s senate race.

Death has played in other races. Strom Thurmond went to the Senate when he did and the way he did by virtue of the truly untimely death of the incumbent SC US Senator. Jean Carnehan went to the Senate in 2001 after her husband died in a plane crash while running against (and eventually defeating from the grave) John Ashcroft.

Death has been a player in politics for years. But these other deals were one-off successions or driven by ideology. You don’t often see a political death having a direct impact on the make up of statewide tickets almost ten years after the event took place.

Thus endeth today’s history lesson…

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3 thoughts on “The Tragedy that Made Careers

  1. You are half right.

    If Emily Couric had been spared cancer and had lived, and if as you suggest she had become Lt. Governor rather than Tim Kaine, then her seat in the Senate still would have opened up and Creigh still would have run for it. And I gotta tell you, with the professionalism of the campaign that I saw Creigh running back then, even in a regular election I don’t think that there was anyone in the district at that time who could have beaten him for that nomination.

    So Creigh would have been right back on the exact same career track.

    But bear in mind that you will eventually find a reason to dislike anyone elected to state-wide office, regardless of which alternate history we lay out for the last decade. It is so much easier to glorify the imaginary careers of those cut short before they could piss us off.

  2. I trust “you will eventually…” refers to the body politic and not just me in particular, or am I that much of a curmudgeon? 😉

    Maybe I am half right, but maybe not. Creigh might have been back in the Senate, but what happens then? Is it possible that he and Kaine face off in 2005? The track is the same, but with completely different implications.

    The thing that struck me about the situation is that Couric’s passing when she did impacted two consecutive statewide tickets, while most of the time the impact is of a much shorter term.

  3. Pingback: A History lesson From Bwana | Eschew Obfuscation

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