Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Governor's races show Democrats are better off being Democrats

Democratic strategist Bob Shrum has a point.

He's not just talking about the upcoming gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, but he's drawing a critically important contrast.

In Virginia, polls showed Democrat Creigh Deeds in a close race with Republican Bob McDonnell during July and early August, while in New Jersey Republican Chris Christie was as much as fifteen points ahead of incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine at about the same time.

Today the situation is reversed. In Virginia it is Deeds who appears headed for a big loss, while Corzine has now drawn even or possibly even slightly ahead depending on which poll you look at.

Keep in mind of course that these two races have historically gone against the party in power in the White House so in both cases the Democrats are running against history and the cyclical nature of politics.

That said, there is a big difference between the races and even allowing for factors like that Deeds is a poor campaigner and in New Jersey an independent appears to be drawing more votes from Christie than from Corzine, Shrum hits the nail on the head when he points out the biggest difference between the races.

Criegh Deeds has tried to run as a 'Republican light,' alternatively saying he supports some Democratic principles but then distancing himself from them, most recently the idea of a public option on health care-- going so far as to say that if there is an 'opt-out' provision and he is Governor he might exercise it on behalf of his state.

As Shrum points out, this is a poor strategy:

Blue Dog Democrats who abandoned Bill Clinton on health care in 1994 were conspicuous among the casualties of that November's congressional elections. Their flight from Clinton alienated Democrats without placating other voters. Just ask Sen. David McCurdy of Oklahoma or Sen. Jim Cooper of Tennessee.

Oops, they're not senators. Both were favorites who lost their respective races after calculated decisions to turn away from Clintoncare. If they had stayed the course, they might not have won; but in 1994, they and others proved that apostasy is not the path to victory. (McCurdy now runs a trade association. Cooper is back in Congress after eight years in the wilderness.)

The truth is, that conservative voters in Virginia are probably going to vote for McDonnell anyway. Even Deeds' erstwhile supporters on the right turned their back on him when he needed them the most. For example, Deeds supports gun rights. This cost him directly, being cited by former Governor Douglas Wilder as the primary reason he could not endorse Deeds even after a personal appeal from President Obama. What about the NRA, which has supported Deeds in the past, most notably in his primary victory over Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran earlier this year? Well, the NRA endorsed McDonnell. Now, I'm a Democrat in support of gun rights myself and I don't fault Deeds for taking this stance if he honestly agrees with me, but any Democrat who relies on the NRA for support is a fool because they are clearly 'fair-weather friends' who will abandon said Democrat when he or she gets into a tough race against a pro-gun Republican. Running this year as a conservative Democrat will not win votes from conservatives who will still vote Republican, but it may keep liberals at home.

Deeds paradoxically asked the same President he has not pledged to support on important issues to come and campaign for him. President Obama did, appearing in Newport News and Hampton Roads in southeastern Virginia. In fact, that may be the only part of Virginia where Deeds will get even close to the percentages he would need to win.

In contrast, Corzine has embraced the Obama agenda, especially on health care and has done everything he could to appeal to liberals in his state. Now, granted New Jersey is a much more liberal state than Virginia (though that was true this summer too when Christie was still way up in the polls.) According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, though Corzine's favorability/unfavorability rating is still negative, he has improved it significantly over the past couple of months. In other words, a Democrat campaigning on Democratic themes has come back from way down. Corzine could still lose, of course, but the comeback is nonetheless significant. Unlike Deeds, he's not shied away from the President and has been very openly grateful for the President campaigning for him.

The bottom line is that a Democrat campaigning as an independent and running away from his party's themes has gone from even in the polls to fifteen points down, while a Democrat campaigning as a Democrat has gone from fifteen points down to even.

That should send a strong message to Democrats in Washington about what works and what does not.

1 comment:

sandyh said...

Until Democrats start believing in their own ideology, we will have these weak candidates slowing the progress the American people want and need.