originally posted at Blue Commonwealth, which should be your first stop for Virginia politics
Robert Holsworth of Virginia Commonwealth University is an important media voice on things political in Virginia. He is, after Larry Sabato, perhaps the most frequently quoted academic figure on Virginia politics. He also writes a column with his observations. Given all the discussion of the meaning, or lack thereof, of the straw poll at Gerry Connolly's St. Paddy's day event, I thought it might be worthwhile to draw people's attention to the piece. You can of course skip the rest of what I offer and go directly to St. Paddy’s Day in Fairfax: Endorsements and Straw Polls. Or you can go below the fold for some extracts and a bit of commentary from me, someone officially neutral in the race, with a working relationship with all 3 Democratic gubernatorial candidates, and friends committed to each of the three candidates. In any case, at least read Holsworth.
In the morning, it was Brian Moran.
Picking up more local endorsements, obtaining support from the majority of Democrats who sit on the FairfaxCounty Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax School Board. It’s a list that grows every day, including some of the most prominent names in NOVA, Hampton Roads and Richmond.
But the nighttime was the right time for Terry McAuliffe.
Thus he gives due credit to Brian Moran for his ability to continue to gain endorsements from the traditional Democratic political class,but also acknowledges how Terry McAuliffe was able to turn out support for the straw poll. The column is an examination of the meaning of both. As he notes
It seems to me that yesterday reflected the strengths and perhaps the challenges that face both the Moran and the McAuliffe campaigns.
He recognizes the achievement of Brian Moran in gaining the overwhelming advantage in endorsements that he has, but then notes that endorsements can only take you so far. He then acknowledges McAuliffe's organizational skills, "in this instance arranging for donors to pay for 400 tickets for his supporters." Now I think this is worth noting - TMac has been accused by many supporters of Moran of having purchased the votes he obtained. Holsworth seems to be throwing in a wrinkle, implying at least that the campaign did not directly pay for the tickets,but that supporters committed funds for that very purpose. I will explore that in a moment, after I note the caution that Holsworth offers about McAuliffe's efforts, even as he writes
McAuliffe and his campaign exult and excel in the "theatre of politics," more so than any Democrat since Doug Wilder.
He raises the question of whether this will translate into votes in the June Primary.
I will return to Holsworth's observations. But let's return to the implication noted above. Close observers of the campaign have probably noted that Holsworth has written a number of pieces remarking on how organized the McAuliffe campaign is. Some of what he has written seems to indicate that he has been given a fair amount of access by the campaign, and that what he has seen has impressed him. Certainly the way he phrases the purchase of the tickets for the Connolly event would seem to support such a conjecture. If so, that demonstrates a real sophistication by the McAuliffe folks - the political press are the refs of the contest, and they are doing a very good job of working one of the key refs. And as I have noted elsewhere, to large degree people who are casual participants in politics do not closely follow the bloviations of bloggers, much as I might wish were the case at least when I post :-) !! They are inclined to pay some attention to what major media outlets say, and many of those who write about Virginia politics will pay attention to the remarks of Larry Sabato and Bob Holsworth. Thus getting what the McAuliffe campaign seems to think is a positive reaction from Holsworth on the straw poll (I was sent a link to the piece from which I am quoting by someone working for Terry after that person read some of my comments on other threads about the events of yesterday) is something that has to please them.
Holsworth frames the results of last night in as clear a fashion as one can imagine:
In order to win the straw poll, McAuliffe had to bring out particpants who might not usually attend Connolly’s bash.
In order to win the primary, McAuliffe may have to bring out participants who may not usually vote in a low-turnout election dominated by party insiders and activists.
Holsworth acknowledges what McAuliffe had to do in order to win the straw poll, to overcome the huge advantage Brian Moran had among local elected officials - it is an overwhelming advantage. And that does leave the question with which Holsworth ends:
The question, I think, is whether he can repeat the feat in a statewide primary.
That is a valid question. At this point the answer is not clear. What is clear is that McAuliffe's win yesterday has unsettled some Moran supporters to the point that what they have posted sounds almost desperate. Others have offered analysis that is not so histrionic, rightly pointing out that the ability to turn ou several hundred people for a low participation straw poll is not the same as being able to turn out tens of thousands of additional voters to change a balance that should otherwise favor Brian Moran.
Should favor, but no guarantees. And the fact the McAuliffe demonstrated something on this small scale, and there is no doubt he will have the resources to attempt to do it on a much larger scale, is something that SHOULD be of concern to the Moran side. If the size of the electorate participating in the primary greatly expands, will they be able to hold down how much of the additional vote goes to McAuliffe? Do they have sufficient boots on the ground to offset what will certainly be an advantage in advertising by McAuliffe? Might McAuliffe's heavy advertising turn out to be a negative, something off which Moran's folks can play, with limited advertising and word of mouth, claiming that McAuliffe is trying to buy the nomination? They surely will try.
One thing to bear in mind. There are some political insiders who are committing to Terry McAuliffe. Brian Moran resigned from the position of House of Delegates Democratic Caucus Chair, where to his credit he has done yeoman work recruiting candidates for Delegate and cutting substantially what had been an overwhleming Republican advantage. He was replaced by Delegate Ken Plum, from Fairfax County.
Delegate Plum has endorsed Terry McAuliffe.
I would say the gubernatorial nomination is far from settled. Stay tuned - methinks that, in word made famous by Al Jolson:
You ain't seen nothing yet