- Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 18:59
- Published on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 18:59
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Virginia Republicans won’t be voting in the June Democratic Primary. They have already made their choice and that’s Bob McDonnell. Surprisingly, at least so far, the Virginia GOP and its candidates haven’t offered much commentary on the Democratic nomination battle. They’re staying out of it. However, if you were to ask the average Republican activist who they think would be the perfect opponent in November, the one that’s easiest to beat, the answer would probably be Terry McAuliffe.
The Democratic nomination, which will be decided on June 9, is intensely competitive. However, the dynamics have shifted considerably over what many expected just a year ago. For most of the past four years the assumption was that the nomination battle would be between former Delegate Brian Moran of Alexandria and State Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath.
The betting was heavily leaning towards Moran. Senator Deeds is a highly accomplished State Senator with a moderate record. However, Moran, with his high name recognition, experience as caucus chairman, and deep ties in Northern Virginia was given the edge. But, this simple match up was turned upside down late last year when Terry McAuliffe entered the race. No one, and this is still the case, knows quite what to make of him or his prospect for winning the primary.
Terry McAuliffe, unlike his two opponents, is a noted national figure. He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, and before that, he was a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. And that’s still a tie, as witnessed by President Bill Clinton’s campaign swing through Virginia for McAuliffe, that’s still very strong.
McAuliffe, most recently, ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008. McAuliffe has also amassed a large personal fortune and through years being one of the Democratic Party’s most successful fund-raisers, has ties to donors all over the country. He quickly put this background to work and is already vastly outspending his two opponents. He has staff, offices all over the state, and a large media budget. Say what you will about him, he doesn’t take on something half way.
McAuliffe’s resume is impressive, but there is one glaring gap in his CV and that’s his background in Virginia politics. He has none. He has never been involved in local or state politics and has never held elected office. In many respects he is the ultimate carpetbagger. And while that term may sound harsh, make no mistake come the November election, his lack of experience in Virginia politics is going to be an issue.
Then there is the matter of the Clintons. Virginia may have turned blue during the last election, but it has never been friendly territory for Bill or Hillary Clinton. Even the Democrats aren’t that warm towards the former first couple. President Bill Clinton lost the state in both the 1992 and 1996 elections and Hillary lost last year’s Presidential Primary to Barack Obama in a landslide. Virginia Republicans, for their part, know that any candidate associated with the Clintons will only help galvanize their party’s conservative base.
A McAuliffe win will also fit ideally into Republican nominee Bob McDonnell’s overall strategy. He knows that to win, particularly in Northern Virginia he needs to cast himself as a moderate. It’s not an easy task. Bob McDonnell is not a moderate, he is a conservative. But the former Attorney General’s task will be a lot easier if he can paint his Democratic opponent with a far left brush. Or at least far left enough that it makes moderate voters, the kinds the Democrats need to win over, uncomfortable. Thanks to the Clinton label this is going to be a lot easier than it would be with another Democrat.
While some Democrats may be convinced that Virginia, thanks to their impressive victory in 2008, has suddenly become a hotbed of liberalism, this is probably wishful thinking. Historically, Democratic successes in Northern Virginia have come, thanks to moderates. This is especially true of the now lightly blue outer suburbs of Loudon and Prince William. Tim Kaine, Jim Webb and Mark Warner all appealed to moderate middle class voters.
McAuliffe is a vigorous and determined candidate. He is trying to win over the Democratic Party’s liberal base while at the same time attempting to convince those a bit more skeptical that his fund raising prowess and national connections will be more than a match for the Republicans in November. This is a good strategy, but also one that shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win in Virginia.