Will Virginia field the first wave of comebacks for the GOP this coming November or will the momentum of Obama-mania continue unabated through 2009 and on into the next federal elections? Saturday’s convention in Richmond for the Republican Party of Virginia holds some interesting lessons for us all.
At the best attended convention in nearly 15 years, Republicans gathered at the Richmond Coliseum to crown their next set of candidates for the upcoming 2009 elections. (Virginia is one of the few states to hold off-year elections for state level offices.) All politics is local as they say, so what follows is a series of lessons learned from the debates leading up to the convention and the final results. Glean from it what you will:
(Note to newcomers: Virginia has a closed convention approach to picking party nominees. Delegates from around the state gather and vote in secret ballot deciding their candidates for elected offices. This year there was three majors spots up for bid: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General.)
* Attorney General – I’m starting with the AG spot for obvious reasons that will follow. This year a three-way fight ensued between State Senator Ken Cuccinelli and local elected officials John Brownlee and David Foster. This battle was a microcosm of every conservative angst and internal melee since November. Cuccinelli was the favored candidate going into the election but was countered heavily by the moderate “egg-shell walking” / Vichy Republicans. “Too conservative to be elected”, they declared. “Social conservatism” is dead!” they’d shout. They were wrong. To be fair Brownlee has strong social conservative credentials but Cuccinelli has the ear and heart of the social conservative base in a major way. Cuccinelli made his pitch on Saturday to an enthused crowd of over 7000 as big yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags went flying around the floor. Insiders around the stadium took bets that a second and third ballot would keep us well into the evening. It took one vote and Cuccinelli walked away victorious with over 55% of the vote in a three-way race. The Post did their usual “pro-life” extremist explanation but Cuccinelli is the tea party candidate to be sure. Cuccinelli has a lot of learning to do on the new media side of things but he has consistently won his elections as Senator in increasingly blue Fairfax County since 2002. LESSON LEARNED: moderates nervous about perceptions are using November’s losses to oust social conservatives. The truth: social conservatives are some of the strongest supporters and will work hard to elect full spectrum conservatives.
* Governor – Republicans have lost the Governor’s mansion in the last two tries. in 2006, popular Democratic governor Mark Warner passed the baton to his Lieutenant Governor, Tim Kaine, with relative ease while he went on to defeat Jim Gilmore for Senate. This year Republicans chose former Attorney General Bob McDonnell to take back the helm. A strong former prosecutor, McDonnell is just about the best looking candidate you can ask for with a strong conservative record on all fronts. McDonnell ran unopposed so Saturday was pretty much a coronation for the front man of the ticket. Bob also has some of the most compelling campaign video promos I’ve ever seen along with a decent website:
* Lt. Governor – Early on there was talk of Bill Bolling (the current Republican Lieutenant Governor) taking on McDonnell for the nomination but unity seems to be the latest meme for a struggling RPV and Bolling conceded to run for re-election instead. Bolling was opposed by a minor “pain-in-the-butt candidate” who conceded and endorsed Bolling before the first ballot was in.
The McDonnell/Bolling/Cucinelli is one of the strongest tickets in a long while. The Democratic primary takes place on June 9th and looks to be a lock for Clintonista Terry McAuliffe to take on McDonnell.
Lessons Learned: Historically, unity has not been the game plan for the RPV but the convention goers left with relative excitement, few hurt feelings and deeper war chests. McDonnell and Bolling and their supporters tend to walk on eggshells around Cuccinelli supports and many in their camps admit to nervousness about the AG candidate bringing them down. Cuccinelli needs to walk strongly into the tea party motif, own it and demonstrate that November’s losses had more to do with Obama, Bush, McCain and the economy than Sarah Palin and social conservative heavies.
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