By Frank Blechman
I like irony as much as the next guy. When my expectations are contradicted by reality, I laugh at my foolishness and stop to reexamine my assumptions. On a good day, I actually learn something. However, last week’s GOP state unassembled convention produced results that on the surface are hard to explain. I may eventually learn something, but at the moment I am just scratching my head.
- The method: Democrats like to think that we are innovative and favor broad participation. When the Republicans chose a convention to nominate their candidates we said “tut-tut.” Despite our general rejection of conspiracy theories, we joined those who speculated that the GOP state leadership had chosen a convention to increase their control and stifle certain elements. We predicted that their plan to have disbursed voting places all over the state, weighted voting, and ranked choice, would create chaos. Yet, despite the COVID restrictions of our time, the GOP figured out how to hold the vote, collect the ballots, count them, and declare nominees within three days.
Personally, I think the Democratic party is right to favor primaries, which more easily permit absent and early voting, and involve far more people in the selection process. The irony here is that the GOP used techniques — particularly ranked choice voting — that Democrats have been talking about for years, but (with the exception of Arlington County) have rarely used.
- The ticket: Democrats trumpet that we are the party of inclusion and diversity. We claim that we are the party representing the true spectrum of Virginia, while the Republicans are mostly old white (angry, bitter, rich) men. We also like to think that we resist stereotypes, although the previous sentence puts that into question.
The irony here is that the Republicans emerged with a ticket comprising an African American woman, a Hispanic man, and a European male multimillionaire. The Democratic ticket is not yet settled, but polls suggest that we might wind up with three white males, perhaps two of the three from Northern Virginia, maybe all three, with an older, wealthy white guy at the top.
The irony here is that the Republicans emerged with a ticket comprising an African American woman, a Hispanic man, and a European male multimillionaire. The Democratic ticket is not yet settled, but polls suggest that we might wind up with three white males, perhaps two of the three from Northern Virginia, maybe all three, with an older, wealthy white guy at the top. Which party ticket better reflects the diversity of the Commonwealth?
Of course, first appearances aren’t everything. In the general election, the Democratic nominees will almost certainly address a broader range of issues than the Republican ticket. Given the unpopularity of Donald Trump here in the Commonwealth (he lost in the GOP primary in 2016, and lost Virginia in the general elections of both 2016 and 2020) and the popularity of President Biden, the Dems will not have a toxic anchor around their necks.
The advantages Democrats have will be offset by several factors:
- GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has no record to run against. In contrast, likely Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe has a long record of public statements and public policies that the GOP can highlight and attack.
- GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has already put millions of his own money into the race, and is capable of putting in a lot more if he wants to. Terry McAuliffe is a strong fundraiser, with a broad established base, and good team, but he will almost surely be outspent.
- GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin did something very rare for a first-time candidate: he actually turned out his vote. Further, he did it in a convention format, which is less familiar to most and more complicated than a primary. He has shown that he can maneuver in a crowded field, while walking the tightrope between the far right and the suburban middle. Since the nomination, although immediately endorsed by Trump, he has begun moving toward the middle, acknowledging that Biden won the 2020 presidential election. He will be harder to nail to Trump than many of the other contenders, or others on his ticket.
- Candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates will (thanks to the screwups at the census) run in their old gerrymandered 2011 districts this year, rather than in new, hopefully less gerrymandered ones. The GOP contenders will have to spend less to introduce themselves and can devote resources to supporting the statewide ticket if they choose. In theory that applies to House Dems as well, but Dems will be fighting hard to hold the narrow majority won in 2019. Many Dems will be looking for help from the top, rather than the other way around.
So, the irony is that Democratic candidates should be in a strong position this year…. Yet it looks as if it will be a very tough race all the way to finish.
So, the irony is that Democratic candidates should be in a strong position this year. The COVID pandemic is fading. The economy is good. The state budget is good. The governing Democrats have delivered on long-standing promises over the last two years. At the same time, the Republican position is relatively weak. While almost 31,000 participated in the GOP convention (57% of those registered as delegates), that is but a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands expected to vote in the Democratic primary on June 8. Grassroots Republican enthusiasm for this ticket is uncertain. Further, the GOP ticket lacks governing experience (with the exception of former Delegate Sears, the lieutenant governor nominee) and public name recognition. Yet, is looks as if the race for the Governor’s mansion will be a very tough one all the way to finish.
The GOP ticket lacks governing experience (with the exception of former Delegate Sears, the lieutenant governor nominee) and public name recognition. Yet it looks as if the race for the governor’s mansion will be a very tough one all the way to the finish.
This is irony I do not enjoy.