This past weekend saw the quarterly meeting of the Democratic Party of Virginia, combined with the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, keynoted by Bill Clinton. I arrived Friday afternoon and stayed until late Sunday morning. I had no official capacity as party official or as accredited blogger, although I did participate in the first meeting of the newly blessed Veterans and Military Families Caucus. I had an opportunity to talk with all of the candidates for the three statewide offices, may of their staff members. I went to various hospitality events they hosted. I talked with and listened to a number of important Democrats, some of whom are committed and advocating for their favorites (and sometimes bashing their opponents), many of whom are undecided in at least one of the two competitive races. And I watched and listened in general.
I am myself uncommitted except for the Attorney General's slot, where Delegate Steve Shannon of Fairfax County is so far unopposed for the nomination. My observations and analysis do not represent an endorsement.
And as of now, I see a very real possibility that the Democrats will field a ticket of three men from Northern Virginia.
I invite you to keep reading.
Let me do the races in reverse order. As noted, Steve Shannon is the only candidate currently in the race for Attorney General. Originally elected in what was then a Republican leaning district in Fairfax County, he has served as a prosecutor and with his wife Abby co-founded the Amber Alert in the DC Metro area. The AG office is more shaped as the people's advocate than it is as a criminal prosecutor. Steve is committed to ensuring the safety of our children, including from on-line predators, and using the power of his office to protect the people from those who would attempt to financially rip them off. Steve is personable. My commitment to his candidacy is likewise personal, and has nothing to do with his current lack of opponent. His wife Abby served as the LA for former Rep. Nick Lampson with the brief for education, which is how I got to knew her, and through her Steve. It is stil possible that State Senator John Edwards from Roanoke may yet again make an attempt for the nomination, but at this point that would seem futile, as Steve has hundreds of thousands in his campaign fund, has been receiving endorsement from sitting Democratic AGs across the country, and is supported heavily by the party establishment in NoVa, and in a statewide Democratic primary a heavy advantage in NoVa can be hard to overcome.
On paper, the AG slot is the best shot for the Dems come November. There will be no current statewide office holder running for the office, and while the Republicans will make their decision in a convention, there are currently 8 people considering the run, and none of them has a high, positive statewide reputation.
There are five people running for the Lieutenant Governor's spot, where the winner will confront incumbent Bill Bolling. In a normal year, the favorite would probably be Jody Wagner of Virginia Beach. Jody is personable, owns a popcorn business in that resort community (the largest city in Virginia, although Fairfax County has substantially more people), and has hel high appointed office under the two most recent (Democratic) Governors: Treasurer under Mark Warner, and Finance Secretary under Tim Kaine. It is worth noting that despite the Old Dominion's current budgetary problems, the Commonwealth has been named the best managed state in the U. S. by Governing Magazine. But she has four opponents, one of whom, Pat Edmonson, is also from Virginia Beach.
Pat is currently a member of the Virginia Beach School Board. Let me disclose that Pat was a classmate in the 2008 Political Leaders Program of the Sorensen Institute, and - as I would do for any of my classmates who runs for office - I am contributing a nominal sum to her campaign: that does not represent an endorsement, as I similarly contributed to a Republican classmate. Pat is perhaps the most consistent progressive candidate in the race. She upset a Republican for her current post. She has raised a surprising amount of money since her recent entry into the race. And she chose to skip the dinner itself, with her and her staff volunteering in a homeless shelter (although they purchased tickets for residents and staff of that shelter to hear Bill Clinton and the various Virginia figures). If Pat can get labor support, especially from teachers, she could be a factor. Were Wagner not in the race, with the support of teachers and heavy local support in Tidewater, it might be possible to see her winning. As of now it looks like she and Wagner may split the vote at least in Virginia Beach, hurting them both.
Rich Savage is a football coach and sometime political consultant, originally form California, now based in Richmond. At the time he got into the race, the only declared candidates were Wagner and Jon Bowerbank, and the race appeared wide open. He is a former TV reporter, and can be fairly personable. I had only one brief conversation with him. The two issues on which he is focusing are educatio (and he has established a foundation dealing with helping secondary students achieve excellence in the arts, athletics and academics) and the environment (he opposes mountaintop removal and the latest proposed coal-fired power plant in Surry, also opposed by Brian Moran). He has no natural political base, and what buzz I heard about him was questioning why he was in the race. One observer from SW Virginia questioned whether he would even qualify for the ballot, wondering how Savage would get 400 signatures in the 9th CD. Even if he qualifies, it is hard to see him as much of a factor, unless he can demonstrate viability by raising a lot of money, and get validation through the endorsement of known political figures.
Jon Bowerbank has been in the race the longest. As he puts it, he is now 4 months into an 18 month plan. Jon was born in England. He, like Pat Edmonson, currently holds elective office, in his case as a member of the Russell County Board in the far SW. Jon runs his own business, EMATS, an energy services company. He is in a position to provide a lot of his own financing. He has also been actively supporting other Democrats around the state for a while. Three of the four who contended for the LG Governor slotin 2005, Lesley Byrne, State Sen. Chap Peterson, and State Senator Phil Puckett, have endorsed him (the fourth, Viola Baskerville works in the Kaine administration and the governor has told everyone to stay neutral). He has also been endorsed by 9th CD Congressman Rick Boucher, and a number of party chairs, including several from Northern Virginia. He will clearly be in the top tier of the race.
The latest entry is Mike Signer. Mike is a lawyer, who served as an assistant counsel for Mark Warner, has served as a Democratic strategist for a number of years, including in a senior role in Tom Perriello's recent upset victory for Congress. He is a Virginia native, a graduate of UVa Law, has lived in Charlottesville, Richmond, and now in Arlington, where he grew up and attended Washington-Lee High School. He ran the 2004 Virginia Voter Protection effort. He hwas a track record on environmental issues dating back to his founding his high school's first environmental club, and has been involved in issues of racial an economic justice. He was a very active Edwards supporter. I note this because there are several key Democratic officials who also were, such as Peter Rousselot, head of the Arlington Democrats, and Mary Anne Hovis, Treasurer of the Fairfax Dems. he has also worked for gubernatorial candidate State. Sen Creigh Deeds.
I said that I thought there was a possibility of an all NoVa ticket. That would mean Mike Signer would win the LG primary. While he has never previously run for office, that is not as unlikely as it may seem. There is no Republican primary, and Virginia is a totally open primary since we do not register by party. In Democratic primaries in general the vote tends to come heavily from NoVa, just as it is Dem votes in the Northern part of the state that provides the margin in statewide general elections, as one can ask either Jim Webb, Tim Kaine or even Barack Obama. If Mike can raise sufficient money, he will be able to remind voters in NoVa that he shares their experience of the traffic horrors, at the same time as he can point to his work with and for several important figures in other parts of the state. Mike comes across as quite articulate. It remains to be seen if he can condense his message down in a way that will connect with ordinary voters. If he can, then given the dynamics of the overall contest I would give him a slight edge to squeak out victory in a four or five way race.
Of course no one knows what the shape of the electorate will be. And that is even more confounded by the entrance of Terry McAuliffe, who has lived in McLean in Northern Virginia for several decades, into the gubernatorial race. Let me talk about Terry first. He has a huge personality, and access to an even bigger bankroll. He is already on tv in Norfolk and Richmond, things unheard of in Virginia Democratic politics. Of course, we are also not used to primaries for Governor. Working backwards, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Don Beyer, Mary Sue Terry, Doug Wilder, and Chuck Robb basically had no opposition for the nomination. Thus it is very hard to predict how this race will play out. McAuliffe has spent a lot fo time and money travelling around the state, attempting to portray himself as he wishes to be seen before his opponents can define him otherwise. A consummate fundraiser, he still might not have gotten into the race had Virginia's election laws not changed. We have had unlimited contributions from within state for quite some time. But until January 1st those outside the Commonwealth were limited to $100. Under those circumstances McAuliffe's huge fundraising list would be of little advantage. He can bring Bill Clinton in whenever he wants to, although that could be a mixed bag even in a primary, since the African American community might still have sore feelings over some of the remarks the Big Dog and his wife made about Barack Obama. It seems fairly clear that the advertising we are already seeing is likely to lead to a significant expansion of the electorate, although where the additional voters will go is not guaranteed. And because Terry is already the one national figure in the race, he gets a lot of media attention. Bob Holsworth of Virginia Commonwealth, one of the preeminent analysts of Virginia politics, has said nice things about Terry's campaign. And this past weekend Terry was being shadowed by Adam Nagourney, chief political reporter of the New York Times, for a piece that will be coming out perhaps at the end of the month. McAuliffe has also actively reached out to the Virginia bloggers, who have demonstrated some influence in Democratic politics, especially in the Kaine and Webb campaigns. I attended a dinner with a number of my NoVa compatriots, and I know several drawn in his direction by that experience.
State Senator Creigh Deeds is a decent man who lost the AG race 4 years ago by 323 votes when he was swamped by late advertising, especially in NoVa. Despite his near miss statewide, he is still not very well known. Born and raised in Bath County, he has been in public office for decades. While in the House of Delegates he served as caucus chair. He has represented either as Delegate or State Senator UVa, Va Tech, and VMI. He has very strong support across the state from his fellow state senators. He will trail in fundraising, both because he lacks the natural base, and because while the General Assembly is in session he is legally barred from fundraising. He also has a much lower burn rate than do the other two candidates. I genuinely like Creigh. My wife is supporting him, in part because he is the only native Virginian in the Governor's race. In a two-way race against Moran it would be hard to see him winning, given the normal distribution of Democratic primary voters. This is not a normal year, and should the race between the other two get nasty enough, who know? His campaign manager, Joe Abbey, has a track record of successful races run, including managing Chap Petersen's double digit victory over Jeanne Marie Devolites for the state senate - Devolites is the wife of Tom Davis, who transferred something like 600,000 of his own campaign funds to his wife, and yet still saw her swamped in what had been considered a relatively safe seat by many Republican analysts. So it would be premature to count out Creigh, but he looks to have an uphill climb.
That leaves Brian Moran, younger brother of Congressman Jim Moran. Brian recently resigned from the House of Delegates, where he was Democratic Caucus Chair. He attended Catholic U law school in DC, then became a prosecutor in Arlington County, before running for the House of Delegates. He and Creigh began preparing for this contest at least by the beginning of 2006. Brian has done a lot of traveling around the state. As Caucus chair he helped recruit candidates to cut the margin the Republicans had in the House, to the point that a net of 6 seats will return control to the Democrats. He resigned for several reason. First, he could not run for both his House seat and Governor at the same time, and thought it might be advantageous for a successor to have served in the current session (Creigh's Senate term runs through the end of 2011). Second, as noted, while the General Assembly is in session, he would be barred from raising funds, and given the potential size of McAuliffe's bankroll, that is a significant concern. But there is another issue, and I have confirmed with a ranking figure in his campaign that it was part of the calculation. The Dems control the Senate, but not the House. Thus Creigh does not have to worry about the Republicans forcing him to cast votes designed to damage him for the general election, Brian did.
In Brian's travels around the state, he has lent his name to candidates and to causes. For example, he goes to Wise County for the Remote Area Medical fair about which I have posted and on which there has been worthy coverage. He has a long track record with the Young Dems, who are strongly in his camp - rather than an evening party after the JJ dinner, for the past two years he has sponsored a brunch in their honor, and this year he was treated as a hero. He also has a track record of outreach to bloggers, arranging a blogger's day at the General Assembly in 2008 (which I did not attend). Some have criticized him for not taking forceful positions, although recently he has come out aggressively on environmental issues, including opposing offshore drilling, in favor of offshore wind, and opposing the proposed coal-fired plant in Surry.
Terry McAuliffe bought 39 tables (10 seats each) at the JJ dinner. His campaign paid for groups of college Democrats to appear. He had lots of visibility in a fashion beyond what people have experienced at previous JJs. On the one hand, he demonstrated a level of campaign organization that hs not previously been seen in Virginia, on the other he may have been somewhat over the top. He has a number of key figures, including several of those most responsible for Kaine's victory, Mo Ellethei and Mike Henry (who also had a high ranking position in Hillary's campaign). He has demonstrated that he is a quick learner, and can talk somewhat persuasively and in depth about Virginia issues. He is the only one of the three who has come out for repeal of the Dillon Rule, which severely restricts the ability of counties and cities to self-govern. On the other hand, he carries some baggage, he is perceived by some to be a carpetbagger. One wonders if his style may cause a bit of a backlash. He says he will say nothing negative about his opponents, but I wonder if that will be maintained.
I wonder that because Brian Moran and his campaign have gotten aggressive. Some perceived some of Brian's remarks at the JJ dinner as a direct in your race challenge to and attack on Terry. One person supporting Brian told me he thought it was a bit over the top. An important elected thought it was way over the top. I heard from some of Brian's staff that they felt they had defined the election, with the implication that they are going to continue to be aggressive towards Terry.
I give an advantage to Brian for several reasons. One is the strength of his support in NoVa, where the most votes are. Another is that he has similar support in the House of Delegates as Creigh does in the State Senate, which gives him access to organizations around the state. Of greater importance, he has been endorsed by all 8 Democratic mayors in the Tidewater region, and as kos has noted, it is mayors and governors who have organizations that can really deliver - those endorsements matter.
It is probably too early to make predictions for the June primary, other than that Steve Shannon will be the AG nominee. As of now, Brian Moran still has to be considered the favorite for the top spot. The LG race probably has no clear favorite, as none of them is really yet known. And no one really pays that much attention, if past primaries are any indication. I think Mike Signer may have the advantage simply by being the only one from NoVa, especially as the Tidewater regions has two local candidates.
What might it mean if all three slot were from NoVa? Normally one might say that would hurt all three in the general. And yet, things are changing in Virginia. And the national democratic party is prepared to put big resources in, especially given that Gov. Tim Kaine was selected to be party chair. Virginia will be ground zero in November.
But first is April, and the primary. If you have read this far, you have my impression and evalution. Take it for what it is worth.