There's a strong argument on the Daily Kos front page, from Markos himself, about the weakness of Democratic candidates who run away from the progressive core of the party. Markos uses the landslide loss by Creigh Deeds as Exhibit A in his case for sticking to core progressive principles. Certainly, there's an argument to be made there, but I think it oversimplifies what happened in Virginia and perhaps draws the wrong lesson.
I don't blame Deeds so much as I blame Virginia's Democrats. After all, they're the ones who picked him as the candidate. Yet, a lot of the people who voted for Deeds in the primary weren't really excited about Deeds as a candidate. They just didn't think much of the general election prospects of the other primary candidates, Brian Moran (too progressive and too northern) and Terry McAuliffe (too notorious and controversial). So, the primary voters engaged in what's called "strategic voting" -- selecting their 2nd choice in hopes of getting something because they were convinced their 1st choice was a sure loser. For me, the Deeds race is another Exhibit A in the case against strategic voting.
Deeds won the Democratic nomination in large part because he was endorsed by the Washington Post. The paper's blessing gave progressive Democrats in northern Virginia the signal to vote for Deeds and anoint him as the successor to John Warner and Tim Kaine's Democratic/Independent coalition. The Post's implication was that northern Virginia's own, Brian Moran, was too liberal (and too identified with northern Virginia) to get elected statewide.
It was a signal for Democrats to vote strategically. Honestly, that never works. There's a reason why it doesn't -- it's based on a ludicrous premise: that one small set of voters can divine the future preferences of a larger, different group of voters -- preferences that are different than their own. This is why Democrats in Iowa decided at the last minute to vote for John Kerry in the Presidential Caucus in 2004. He wasn't necessarily their favorite -- most of them preferred Dean or Edwards, but they didn't see either of those candidates as electable. They presumed that Kerry, with his Vietnam war-hero resume, would be electable. Guess how that worked out?
Kerry lost to a guy who presided over an economy that was shedding jobs and plunging more Americans into crippling debts thanks to stagnant wages -- a guy who had led Americans into a war that was already unpopular. Kerry, though, was a lousy candidate. He couldn't convince voters that he had a firm plan to make their lives better and end the war. All those Iowans who weren't excited about John Kerry a month before the Iowa Caucus? Turns out their tepid enthusiasm for the man was a harbinger of the general election result. He wasn't a good candidate in Iowa, and it was a fallacy to presume other Americans would be excited about him later. The weaknesses Kerry showed in Iowa were the ones that finally gave the election to Bush. That's how nominating Kerry worked out.
The same thing happened with Deeds. He was a lousy candidate. He'd already lost to McDonnell once in a statewide race -- but it was achingly close. What he had going for him was a rural Virginian pedigree and a reputation for taking positions that were more in line with the conservatives in his region than the Democrats up north. Still, the Democrats up north voted for him in the primary, because they were convinced his brand of conservative politics would be more successful in the election than a progressive like Moran.
What did we get? A Democratic candidate who couldn't articulate a strong commitment to much of anything. He spend the race trying to finesse his positions -- his ideas and where he'd get the money. The rest of the time he spent attacking his opponent. There was no positive agenda from Deeds. I know for a fact that Deeds was pummeled for it -- I spoke to a McDonnell poll-working volunteer who turned away from Deeds because of his negative campaign.
Yet, I don't blame Deeds. This is who he is. He didn't win the nomination because he articulated a vision supported by Democratic voters. He won because those voters thought other Virginians wouldn't support a candidate who tried to articulate a more progressive vision for the state. Deeds fundamental weakness, though, was not that he wasn't progressive enough. It's that he just wasn't a great candidate -- and too many voters in the primary voted for him for the wrong reason.
The fallacy lies in progressive Democrats voting for a 2nd or 3rd choice because they think s/he has a better chance in the general election than their personally preferred choice. The truth is much simpler than that. If you do not prefer a candidate, it is sheer hubris to imagine that others will prefer him. It is stupid to support him as the "electable candidate". That is an argument that borders on total incoherence, because it rest on a the weakest of underpinnings.
If you don't like a guy, there are reasons for that -- and they probably aren't confined to political labeling.
Are Democratic primary voters more left-leaning than the voters in the general election? Undoubtedly, this is true -- but, it's still a mistake for primary voters to cast their votes strategically.
There were Democrats who didn't want to vote for Obama during primaries because they feared he wasn't electable. They were wrong. Those who anointed Deeds because of supposed electability were wrong, too. Instead, he dragged down the Democratic ticket in Virginia.
The lesson: Don't ever vote for someone because you presume he or she is the electable candidate. Vote for the candidate you are most excited about. If you're excited about the candidate, it's a good bet others will become just as excited, when they get to know more about your candidate.