Welcome the Gate Maker

Political Cartoons - Presidential Debates - Mom's been watching too many debates - Washington TimesAbout 15 years ago, Howard Dean, then chair of the Democratic National Committee, proposed that the party undertake an explicit “50state strategy, putting resources into building a Democratic Party presence even where Democrats had been thought unlikely to win federal positions. The objective was that fielding Democrats in local and state positions, and increasing awareness of Democrats in previously conceded areas, would result in growing success in future elections.

The 50-state strategy helped the Democrats regain control of Congress in 2006 and arguably laid the foundations for the 2008 Obama campaign’s community-organizing model. Unfortunately, the 50-state strategy was not pursued by the DNC following Dean’s departure. But the strategy may have found itself a foretelling in Virginia, where the upcoming campaign contests for state delegates has mushroomed into a pitched contest of a host of candidates in 2021 for the 100 seats in the lower chamber of the state’s General Assembly. The 40 state senators are not on the ballot until 2023.

The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) created a graphic that offers a view of the dynamics for the field of battle this November for delegate seats.

Virginia voters are spoiled with choice this spring. In addition to the local delegate contests, a total of 32 statewide candidates have cleared both parties’ certification processes in a field larger than any in modern history. Primary voters are offered a plethora of options for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, along with those running in intra-party challenges for delegate slots.

“There’s absolutely no precedent for this,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and author of a book about nomination fights in Virginia. “There’s not a single year that even comes close.” 

“There’s absolutely no precedent for this,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and author of a book about nomination fights in Virginia. “There’s not a single year that even comes close.” 

Nor is the campaign parade solely one for Democrats. Seventeen Republicans candidates — seven for governor, six for lieutenant governor, and four for attorney general — paid fees ranging from $2,900 to $14,000  to qualify for a party-run convention set for May 8, according to the Republican Party of Virginia.

Fifteen Democrats — five for governor, eight for lieutenant governor, and two for attorney general — produced the necessary 2,000 signatures each from registered voters to qualify for a June 8 primary, according to the Democratic Party of Virginia. 

The broad field was unheard of for much of last century, according to Sabato. Harry Byrd handpicked segregationist Democrats to run for office until the mid-1960s. Even after Byrd died, Sabato said, candidates were often told by senior party leaders to wait their turn. “It was called the politics of anointment and appointment,” he said

The GOP swore off primaries after a 1949 vote that Sabato called a “disaster” because of low turnout; the party didn’t hold another primary until 1989, and many of its candidates gained nominations unopposed.

“No one is a gatekeeper anymore,” Sabato added. “Today, disruption is part of the game.”

“No one is a gatekeeper anymore,” Sabato added. “Today, disruption is part of the game.” Or, in other words, the political parties are not effective in developing deep benches of candidates, except, perhaps, with respect to GOTV (get out the vote).

A recently signed, broad-based Voting Rights Act will add another dimension to the political landscape leading up to the primaries and party contest elections. The combination of enhanced voting processes and crowded candidate fields will draw national attention, as the Commonwealth has already been dubbed a bellwether for 2022 and 2024.

Virginia fits Howard Dean’s model. Geographically poised adjacent to several deep red jurisdictions, the Old Dominion’s influence and example may presage further changes in the tier of southern states.  That process may earn the Commonwealth the appellation of Gate Maker.

[See last week’s primary predictions by Frank Blechman, which complement the view of VA ‘s forthcoming elections as a broad signal of the winds of change coming to the Commonwealth: https://wp.me/p9wDCF-2×5.]

 



Categories: elections, Issues, Local, politics, State

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