NLS has graciously allowed Mo Ellithee to list his “Top Eleven Virginia Political Stories of the Decade” over at NLS. However, despite Mr. Ellithee’s claims this list reads less as political stories and more as the Democratic victories list, sometimes listing as multiple events a series of things that really are all part of the same story.
So I thought I’d take a whack at this…hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
When I was a tyke one you ran for office from your home. You needed roots to even get a nomination. But in the last five years carpetbagging to run for office is seen with stunning regularity. Some of it is a matter of degree…James Socas lived in Va-10 for more than a year before running for Congress against Frank Wolf in 2004…he just didn’t bother to transfer his voter registration from California until he decided he wanted to run for office. Some kind of roots…
Since then we saw Steve Chapman allegedly parachute into Harry Parrish’s district (jury has never been clear on that one), Dick Black of Loudoun County rent an apartment in Va-1 to run for a GOP congressional nomination…and Tom Gear almost did the same thing in moving from one end of his delegate district to the other. Stevens Miller moved to the other end of his newly won supervisor district to run against Tom Rust, and of course we have Dave Marsden doing the same thing in Va 37 right now-although he assures everyone that if he actually wins the election he will move into the district permanently. Some kind of Chutzpah…
9. The Irrepressible Frank Wolf:
In 2004, 2006, and 2008 the lefties and the libs came after Frank Wolf. They called him over the hill. They said he ran “stealth campaigns”. They tried to manufacture a “macaca moment” to beat him in 2008. Millions of dollars were spent against him. The 2006 and 2008 campaigns occured during the most toxic cycles for a GOP candidate since World War II. Despite all this Wolf scored over 60% in 2004, and while the Democrats won statewide senate races in 2006 and 2008, took Virginia Blue in a presidential election in 2008 for the first time in over forty years, and the GOP was losing three house seats in 2008…Congressman Wolf won with over 57% in both cycles. Then, in 2009 three of the seats gained by the GOP in 2009 were in Va-10 and running in high gear thanks to the Wolf staff. Some think he will retire after the 2010 census, but with a record like this why leave? More than that, Congressman Wolf is constant proof that campaigns that stick to the fundamentals and execute them well are difficult to beat.
8. Chichester at the Gate-Stubborness as Statesmanship:
John Chichester, then Senate Finance Chairman and GOP state senator, refused to work with the HOD and conservative GOP state Senators and preferred to join with Russ Potts to put up his own spending plan. This plan meant that from 2001 until the Chich retired after the 2007 session that the transportation fight was always between two GOP options. The Assembly Democrats never had to put up or fight for a plan on their own, and under the cover of GOP infighting could build their party efforts.
7. Rise of New Media:
Facebook, Twitter, on-line fundraising, video trackers and immediate publication-all became standard fare in Virginia campaigns. Macaca (#4) was only the most famous episode. Bloggers showed they could get information on line faster, and if acting in concert with the MSM could draw large attention to a matter. Higher grade political analysis was often found in blogs as opposed to what was found in the MSM. The late Raising Kaine is still the paradigm of a vibrant community political blog. NLS offers top notch statistical analysis, and conservative blogs like Bearing Drift, Too Conservative, and the Mason Conserv charted the ideological ups and downs of the GOP. The Terium Quid (one of many from the peripatetic pen of Norm Leahy) consistently spells out the economic/libertarian conservative narrative. AIAW and BVBL came at issues from directly opposite points of view with great vigor, and to the amusement and enlightenment of the blogosphere.
One of the marks of a successful campaign is the candidates online presence-including and ranging from facebook to the candidates web page to their ability to raise money online to their ability to quicky respond. By the same token, sometimes the blogs get more than a little full of themselves. The so-called Netroots saw they had impact but not domination in the Democratic Party, and the bizarre attempt of the Judy Feder 2008 campaign staff to generate a Macaca against Frank Wolf showed that (1) blogs need the MSM to bring down the opposition and (2) unless there is substance involved the MSM ain’t playing. Nonetheless, the New Media continues to grow in impact-especially when working hand in glove with old style volunteer and and GOTV efforts.
6. Mark Warner Political Expertise/Duplicity:
Mark Warner is the leading Virginia Democratic political figure in the decade, and his stylings have been equally deft and devious-which means some think he is masterful and others think he is in league with Lucifer. Warner built the foundation for the Democratic rise in Virginia, and was helped immeasurably by GW Bush administration policies. Warner was able to get a tax increase passed in 2004/5 session, elected a Democratic successor, and set the stage to crush his 2008 senate opponent and also to take Virginia blue in a presidential election for the first time since 1964.
By the same token he engaged in a mass of deceit. He suckered James Socas into the 2004 Va-10 race claiming Wolf was vulnerable, and got a quarter million dollars from the Kerry campaign for voter ID using the same “beatable” assurances. He got GOP backing for his tax increase by telling various HOD members that Virginia would run into the red without the increase…and then come to find that not only would the state have run a surplus without the increase but his staff somehow “overlooked” 137 million dollars in state funds. In 2006 Warner pushed and pushed to get someone into the field against George Allen and finally got Harris Miller to run. Then, having gotten Miller into the field and promised to support him, Warner orphaned him when Jim Webb got into the game.
Deft and devious…which perhaps defines the successful politician.
5. RINO: The GOP has long dealt with ideological schisms. When I was young, it was moderate v. conservative. Now, it is more social conservative v. economic conservative. But recently the new epithet Republican in Name Only. The implication is there is a punch list that you have to follow to be a Republican, and if not you are somehow less than human. This epithet started to get thrown around seriously in the aftermath of the 2004/5 tax increase. Longtime conservative delegates like Harry Parrish, men who had proven their conservative bona fides many times over, decided to trust the governor and back his budget…and when it passed it was as if all they had ever done before was discarded. The term RINO has become one of the chief epithets tossed back and forth in the GOP, and as the decade ends it seems GOP electoral success is directly connected to how loud this comment is made about a candidate.
4. Macaca: George Allen’s famed “Macaca” comment deserves double credit. First, his thoughtless utterance and his campaign’s feeble follow-up torpedoed not only his re-election campaign but also his presidential ambitions…and given the way things spun out in 2008, had he won reelection I think there is little doubt he would have been a strong contender for the nomination. Although he was not helped by the horribly biased coverage of the WaPo, it amazes me to this day how Allen constantly chose the wrong course of action in response to various campaign pressures. However, while Macaca was momentous in and of itself, it was also indicative of the rise of new media.
3. Landmark Spending Non-Starters: 2002 Tax Referendum/2007 Transportation Bill
These watershed events set the landscape for spending perceptions regarding transportation throughout the decade. The unwillingness of the electorate to approve a transportation tax increase in 2002 created a mindset in the GOP that the public didn’t want new taxes and preferred budget cuts. The GOP has held fast to this concept ever since. The 2007 bill, although declared unconstitutional, helped defuse the Democratic claims that the GOP wouldn’t address transportation spending. The 2002 referendum not only gave Ken Cuccinelli the political publicity that vaulted to a win in a special election in 2002 and ultimately to the AG office in 2009, but with the defeat of long time delegate Jack Rollison by Jeff Frederick the first musings of the “RINO” taunt were heard.
2. Death of Emily Couric:
Virginia is no stranger to tragedy coloring her politics, but the tragic death of Emily Couric had huge repercussions. Senator Curic was going to run for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor in 2001, and was seen as a sure thing for the nomination. Had she lived she would likely have become Virgina’s first female governor in 2005. Her death opened the door for the upset Tim Kaine LGov nomination in 2001, his election in 2005, and the rise of Ms. Couric’s successor in the State Senate Creigh Deeds to a position on two Democratic state-wide tickets.
1. GOP Sexual Harassment and Eavesdropping scandal, 2002:
Despite the Warner win in 2001 the GOP began 2002 holding a majority in the congressional delegation and the General Assembly, both US Senate seats, and the AG office. This was the direct result of the work and direction of Vance Wilkins, HOD member from Amherst County. Wilkins was elected to the House in 1978, and led the step-by-step growth of the Virginia GOP. He engineered the GOP capture of the General Assembly and the 2001 redistricting…
…then things fell apart.
The Va GOP ED was accused of listening in on Democratic telephone conversations (given the conference call access code by a disaffected staffer and dialed in unannounced), and ultimately convicted of eavesdropping. Wilkins was accused of sexual harassment (and paid $100K to one woman to make the matter go away). Wilkins stepped down as speaker, and then did not run for re-election in 2003…and the grassroots GOP leader was gone.
I rank this item #1 because Wilkins was a shrewd politico. As Speaker of the House through the decade he would have been a continuing voice of political reason and practicality. He could have helped avoid so many of the GOP missteps of the past decade-including the Hitler Death Penalty ads in 2005, the never-ending macaca madness in 2006, the RINO primaries in 2007, the dueling chairman elections in 2008 and 2009. There has been no real GOP leader since Wilkins went down until Patrick Mullins came into office, and the GOP decline has been in direct connection with that lack of leadership.
His fall presaged the Democratic rise of the last decade, and that why it is so important.
You will note that I have omitted election results, instead focusing on the events that drove the election results. However, special notice must be given to the McDonnell win in 2009. Not only did it show that Virginia is not competitive and not blue, but put a Republican in the Governor’s mansion after eight years of Democrats-and just in time for redistricting.
Those are my ruminations…feel free to offer your thoughts below…