- Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 April 2009 20:17
- Published on Wednesday, 01 April 2009 20:17
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Virginia Democrats haven’t had a contested nomination for Governor since 1985. That year Jerry Baliles and Dick Davis fought it out in a convention. Baliles went on to win the election. The last time they had a contested primary was in 1977 when Henry Howell beat Andy Miller. Howell was defeated by Republican John Dalton in the fall.
This year, riding a crest of success, Virginia Democrats will be choosing between three candidates who want the Democratic nod to run for Governor. While primaries are sometimes considered good party building tools, often giving prospective nominees a chance to organize, raise money, and test their skills on the campaign trail, they have a downside as well. Primaries can get ugly, they are expensive, and most of all, if the campaign becomes particularly intense, there can be hurt feelings and bad blood. Given that the primary is in June, and the election in November, that’s not a lot of time to bind up the wounds and pull the party back together.
The Republicans, though not saying so publicly, are pinning some of their hopes on a divisive Democratic primary campaign. However, the Democratic leadership and in particular Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, and Jim Webb are actively committed to keeping the tone of the campaign civil. “Civil” seems to be the operative word at the moment.
Governor Kaine, in particular, now the Chairman of the National Democratic Party, wants to see a Democrat elected governor of Virginia and he doesn’t want to see this prospect dashed in a bitter intra-party contest.
Until recently the presumption was that the Democratic nomination was between two candidates, Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath and former Delegate Brian Moran. Moran, it was generally presumed, had the edge, but Deeds, having just barely lost the race for Attorney General in 2007, was nonetheless considered a strong candidate. He is a likable, moderate, down home Democrat.
However, late in 2008 there was a surprise entrant. Terry McAuliffe, a former Chairman of the Democratic Party and a close political ally of the Clintons, threw his hat into the ring. At first, no one knew quite what to make of his decision to run for Governor. McAuliffe’s ties to the state aren’t that strong. He has lived in McLean for years, but for the most part is identified with political Washington. However, he has put together an impressive campaign. With his personal fortune and his national connections, he is by far the best funded. His ads have already started running and he is aggressively touting ideas for economic growth and job creation.
While generalizations are always difficult to make it appears that McAuliffe and Moran are the leading contenders and are also fighting for the same voters. Deeds with his ties to Southwest Virginia, is strongly favored in rural Virginia, while his opponents on the other hand are focusing their efforts on the Commonwealth’s two largest urban and suburban regions, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
These days that’s where most of the Democratic voters live. Moran has a long list of endorsements, from party chairs, to members of the House of Delegates and the State Senate. This gives him a powerful edge. McAuliffe, on the other hand, is trying to reach out directly to the party’s liberal base. To some degree, if activity in the blogosphere, and his campaign’s energy level, the “buzz” if you will, is any measure, he is making some inroads.
Deeds, something of the odd man out in this contest is hoping that as “everyone’s second choice,” he might, just maybe, benefit from that fact in a three way contest. With three candidates he no longer has to win a majority, he just needs to win a fraction more than the other guys.
So far the race has been surprisingly civil. The candidates shake hands when they at events, nod their heads when the other is speaking, and have kept their attacks surprisingly tame. Some of this is enlightened self interest. They all see themselves as prospective nominees and they know that a slash and burn approach could make pulling together a winning campaign in November nearly impossible.
The Democrats are working hard to have a civil campaign. However, there is a worry in a campaign that’s so peaceful. Namely, is all this civility because of good manners or is it because none the candidates is generating all that much passion?
Democrats have their preferences, but the intensity of the fight isn’t like, say, the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The divisions just aren’t that deep. That may be an important ingredient for a peaceful primary, but come November the party is going to need a candidate who generates a little energy. Perhaps the Democrats would be better off if their primary isn’t too civil.