Thursday, September 03, 2015

Obenshain may be unexpected collateral damage of Herring decision

Ralph Northam (right) seen at an anti-Cuccinelli rally with a Sierra Club member wearing an ERA Yes button in 2013.
Yesterday, Virginia's current Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announced that instead of pursuing the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia in 2017, he would instead stand for re-election to Attorney General. Herring's decision to forgo a gubernatorial run in 2017 runs counter to a trend of Attorneys General leap frogging over their party's Lieutenant General to seek the Commonwealth's highest executive office.

Herring's decision carries many knock-on effects with it--some obvious and some not quite so obvious. The most obvious consequence is that the path is cleared for Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (D) to claim the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2017 by acclamation, as it is unlikely any credible candidate will challenge him for the nomination.

The more surprising collateral damage from Herring's decision is located on the right side of Virginia's political spectrum. Senator Mark Obenshain (R) was seen by many (including myself) as the obvious favorite choice for the Republican Party of Virginia's nominee for governor in 2017. Obenshain narrowly missed defeating Herring for Attorney General in 2013 and was the only Republican statewide candidate who ran a campaign that was largely free of errors. Obenshain's running mates Ken Cuccinelli for governor and E.W. Jackson for Lieutenant Governor almost certainly dragged Obenshain down and cost him the election.

Which makes it that much more puzzling that Ken Cuccinelli is apparently considering elbowing Obenshain aside in order to make another run for Virginia's Governor's mansion. Cuccinelli's reasoning apparently runs something like this: Cuccinelli, who received 1,013,354 votes in the 2013 governor's race believes that he would be a stronger candidate to take on Ralph Northam, who received 1,213,155 in the 2013 lieutenant governor's race, than Mark Obenshain, who received 1,103,612 votes in the 2013 attorney general's race.

It's an interesting window into the mind of Ken Cuccinelli if he thinks that he's a stronger candidate than two men who both received more votes than he did in 2013. It must be especially frustrating to Obenshain supporters who must realize that, if not for Cuccinelli's incompetence as a campaigner and involvement in the McDonnell scandal, Obenshain would have probably edged out Mark Herring for attorney general.

In the topsey-turvey world of the Republican Party of Virginia a candidate's performance in the general elections is much less important than his ability to control the party apparatus and engineer a nominating convention. If Cuccinelli's supporters can force a convention instead of a primary in 2017, they could almost certainly re-nominate Cuccinelli for governor, putting him up against Ralph Northam, a man who received almost 200,000 more votes than Cuccinelli in 2013.

And Cuccinelli isn't the only Virginia Republican considering challenging Obenshain presumed candidacy. There are a few who believe the following:
1) Ralph Northam is a vulnerable Democratic opponent (why they believe this isn't clear).
2) Anything can happen in an RPV convention (after all, an RPV convention nominated E.W. Jackson).
Weighing these factors, there are probably a few Virginia Republicans willing to buy a lottery ticket in hopes of winning the RPV nomination for governor in a convention in 2017 and beating Northam in the November general election.

Herring's decision to run for re-election may have the ironic result of both settling the 2017 likely Democratic statewide ticket while completely unsettling the 2017 Republican statewide ticket, leading to another daggers-out RPV nomination convention in May or June of 2017.

No comments: