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McDonnell’s running mates may be a liability

Candidates for governor almost never have any choice in the makeup of the ticket. The candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general all run separate campaigns. This means a candidate for governor could find himself paired with running mates who may or may not share his philosophy -- 2005 was a good example.
Tim Kaine was carefully cultivating his moderate positions in his run against Jerry Kilgore. However, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Leslie Byrne, had beaten moderate Chap Peterson in the primary and was campaigning to the left of Kaine. It’s possible, though he never said so, that Kaine would have preferred Peterson. Byrne’s liberal views sometimes made it hard for Kaine to look as moderate as he wanted. However, as it turned out, Kaine won the election and Byrne came surprisingly close to winning. But they were definitely two different kinds of candidates, and the match wasn’t an easy one.
  This year it’s possible that the down-ticket candidates, while running in the shadows, may have more of an impact on the general election than usual. This is particularly true for GOP candidate for governor, Bob McDonnell.

McDonnell has an interesting challenge. Virginia has favored the Democrats in each of the last four elections. This is particularly true in Northern Virginia. This region, which has proven it is big enough to decide a statewide election, has turned distinctly blue. In the ‘90s and even into this century it was marginal. Republicans were strong in the region. However, during the past few years, that support has collapsed. This means if McDonnell is to win the election, he has to appeal to this voter base. To do that means he has to run as a moderate.
  Unfortunately for McDonnell, while he wants to market himself to Northern Virginia voters as a moderate, his conservative record and his long cultivated identity with the party’s right wing are going to make this difficult. But he is doing his best. His TV ads in the Northern Virginia market are a good example of the approach he is taking. He never mentions he is a Republican. Indeed, nothing in his campaign even suggests that he is a conservative. That’s a good strategy. He clearly understands what he is up against.
  That’s where the down-ticket candidates could start to be a problem. A solid conservative team would probably have been a selling point for the GOP in the 1990s, but that’s not necessarily true any more. It  doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t have support -- they do -- but the state has changed enough that the conservative label isn’t always an asset. This is the problem McDonnell has in the fall.
He is going to have to spend a lot of his time trying to convince the million or so registered voters in Northern Virginia that he is more of a moderate than he is a conservative. In other words, he is going to have to persuade them that he is a “different kind or Republican.” This means he will have to talk about ways to raise money for Northern Virginia transportation improvements, and at the same time, at least deemphasize some of his more conservative positions on social issues. This would include gay rights and abortion.
  However, while McDonnell might be trying to project himself as a Republican the region might support, his running mates are another story. They are far more conservative and might well tarnish McDonnell’s emerging moderate image. Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who is running for reelection, is a prime example. He is one of the State Senate’s most vocal social conservatives. The same is true for State Senator Ken Cuccinelli who is running for attorney general. Cuccinelli’s conservative credentials are just as solid. To conservatives, the true believers if you will, these are both good candidates. But in the business of practical politics, and carrying the election in November, both could well end up being a liability to McDonnell’s campaign.
  The Democrats don’t have the same problem. Their candidates are generally perceived as moderate. Jody Wagner, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is a former state finance secretary. The Democratic candidate for attorney general, Steve Shannon, is a member of the House of Delegates and a former Fairfax prosecutor. Neither is likely to cause Creigh Deeds any problem at the top of the ticket. If anything, this group is likely to complement each other.
  Most years if there are any differences between the top of the ticket and the candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general they don’t matter that much. Most voters, if asked, would have a tough time naming the down-ticket candidates.
But in the case of Bolling and Cuccinelli, that may not be the case.
Bill Bolling is the incumbent lieutenant governor and has already run statewide. Cuccinelli is well known in Northern Virginia. Often, such name recognition is a good thing, but in Northern Virginia, their presence on the Republican ticket is going to make it difficult for McDonnell to convince voters that he is really a moderate.
You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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