Saturday, November 07, 2009

Did Obama cost Deeds the election?

The time has come to begin talking about the epic failure of the Democratic Party of Virginia in this year's state elections.

I've been mulling over the thought of writing a single epic post describing every aspect of this year's failure and then offering some suggestions as to how to avoid making the same mistakes again in the future. I find I don't have the heart to write such a post. When I reflect on the many unforced errors in the Democratic campaigns for too long, I get a headache. I will have to deal with this topic piecemeal, in small bites that can be completed before the inevitable headache arrives.

This evening I'd like to address the question of whether Barack Obama somehow cost Creigh Deeds the governor's mansion in this year's election. The honest answer to this question is "yes" and "no", and "hell no."

The Republican Party of Virginia has been able to use Barack Obama effectively as a rallying point for its base. That fact is central to understanding what happened this year.

This year's election was a base election with low turnout. Turning out the base of each party was the key to winning. The fact that Barack Obama is president was an effective motivational tool for the Republican Party of Virginia. In this limited sense, Barack Obama's presidency was a drag on Creigh Deeds' campaign.

But in another sense, Barack Obama wasn't a drag on Creigh Deeds' campaign. This year's election was, remember, a base election. Barack Obama is wildly popular with the base(s) of the Democratic Party. There isn't a single important Democratic Party constituency that doesn't greatly admire and respect Barack Obama.

Why did Creigh Deeds keep Barack Obama at arm's length until the very last moment? Did Deeds really believe that a huge number of independents were going to show up and vote this year? The people who hate Barack Obama were never going to vote for Creigh Deeds anyway, so why did he feel the need to pander to their feelings?

Why slight the feelings of voters who like Barack Obama? In this sense it wasn't Barack Obama who hurt Creigh Deeds, it was Deeds' own decision to try and distance himself from a man who is wildly popular with the base of the Democratic Party of Virginia: Barack Obama.

Now then, if we step back and consider the "yes" and the "no" and try to balance between the two, we are confronted with a few facts.

It is true that Virginia has shown a tendency to vote for governor for the party that is not the president's party. Creigh Deeds knew that going in. If he didn't think he could overcome that particular jinx he should have stepped aside.

It was also equally obvious that Barack Obama would be the focal point of the Republican Party of Virginia's attacks. Creigh Deeds should have been prepared for that too, and if he didn't feel up to the job of being a Democrat in 2009, he should have stepped aside.

Bob McDonnell did have more money than Deeds, but not as badly as might have been, and in part because of Deeds' own actions. As discussed above, the Republican base was fired up, ready to volunteer and write checks for Bob McDonnell. What of it? George Allen outspent Jim Webb 2-to-1 and was still defeated by Webb's ragtag army of volunteers.

If Creigh Deeds found himself lacking funds, then perhaps he should examine his own behavior. Who does Creigh Deeds suppose donors to political campaigns are? In this writer's experience political donors can be broken into two groups: people who believe in something and people who want something.

Bob McDonnell hit the sweet spot: he was able to draw on lobbyists who wanted favors they were unable to get under Warner and Kaine as well as the angry base of Republican true believers.

Creigh Deeds hurt his ability to fund raise among Democrats by constantly stepping back from basic Democratic policy positions. He also disappeared after the primaries were over, vanishing into a part of the state that contains less than a seventh of the state's population and considerably less than a seventh of its wealth. On top of that, as soon as Deeds began looking like a loser, the lobbyist money dried up too.

Barack Obama wasn't responsible for Creigh Deeds' fundraising problems: Creigh Deeds was.

When you consider all of these factors and take them as a whole, it's easy to see that Creigh Deeds was hurt by Barack Obama's absence, and Barack Obama was absent because Creigh Deeds wanted him to be absent.

If Creigh Deeds didn't want Barack Obama in Virginia drumming up the Democratic base, whose fault is that? If Creigh Deeds didn't want Barack Obama fundraising for him, whose fault is that? Bringing Barack Obama to Virginia would have fired up the Democratic Party's base.

The Republican Party's base was already fired up, and it's hard to see how having Barack Obama in Richmond could have provoked the Republicans more than having Barack Obama across the Potomac in the White House already had. Deeds gave up all the advantages of having Barack Obama as a friend without losing any of the disadvantages of having him as a president.

In conclusion then, I must say that it seems to me that any contribution Barack Obama may have made to the defeat of Creigh Deeds was dwarfed by Deeds' own failures.

Enough for now: I feel a headache coming on.

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