Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman

Boucher or Scott in 2005? 

Backers of the Two-Term Governor law, including Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, need to remember the Chinese proverb: Don't wish for something,  you might get it.


The smart money at this weekend's big annual Democratic Party fundraiser was betting on a multi-candidate 2005 gubernatorial primary, assuming the Two-Term Governor law goes in effect. Of course, such speculation is premature, as the debate over this dubious and ill thought-out change is only beginning. But in Virginia, the best political chess players are already focused on the next gubernatorial election, talking quietly among themselves, game-playing all the possible moves -- including the possibility that the constitutional amendment proposed by Harry R. "Bob" Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, allowing the Governor elected in 2005 to run for reelection, becomes law.

So, at this weekend's J-J Dinner, those searching for Bobby Fisher were asking: What are the practical, political consequences if a governor elected in 2005 were allowed to run again in 2009?

The pro-two-term supporters have said such a change would benign, with little effect on gubernatorial campaigns or governance. But take it from someone like me who has run three successful statewide campaigns: The change not only would impact the campaign for governor but would introduce intensive campaign politics into the governing of Virginia, something intentionally muted by the no-reelection rule.

But let's leave these management issues for another column. Today, let's focus on how the two-term law, if enacted, would affect the election calculations of some of Virginia's best known politicians, such as 9th district Rep. Rick Boucher, former Congressman and Lt. Governor candidate L.F. Payne, and 3rd district Rep. Bobby Scott on the Democratic side. (I will deal with the GOP side in another column).

Until now, there has always been what analysts call an "open" seat in the election for governor. Ambitious politicians knew they would not have to contest against an incumbent, whose fundraising abilities always exceed those of any wannabe, even if he or she is facing the toughest of political times.

But should the two-term Purkey amendment pass, the 2009 race for governor is all but certain to have an incumbent seeking reelection. Thus, if you don't run in 2005, you have to wait until 2013 before you may have another open seat for governor.

Therefore, the election of the Governor in 2005 offers what could become a rarity in the next several gubernatorial cycles: a contest without an incumbent governor.

Moreover, 2005 also offers a sitting congressman a chance to get eight years -- not merely four -- as the governor. As a practical matter for an ambitious politician, giving up a safe seat in Congress for eight years as governor is far more appealing than taking the leap for only one short term.

The same political calculations -- the absence of an incumbent's money-raising machine and the presence of a possible eight-year term as Governor - will prove attractive to anyone who is harboring Executive Mansion fever.

In addition -- and this something Boucher and Scott will be pondering -- the governor running for reelection in 2009 is likely to be running with a Lt. Governor and/or an Attorney General also running for
reelection. Why? As discussed in an earlier article, it would be politically smart for them to seek a second term rather than risk their careers opposing a sitting Governor.

The result: If Boucher and Scott wait until 2013 to seek the Democratic nomination, they could be facing a two-term Democratic Lt. Governor and/or Attorney General who has had eight years to build support and can claim it is their turn to run, an argument that proved persuasive for two-term Attorney General Mary Sue Terry in getting Lt. Governor Don Beyer to give her the Democratic gubernatorial nod without a fight in 1993.

Assuming the "Purkey Turkey" becomes law, the logic is inescapable: If you don't run for Governor in 2005, you might not have a realistic chance of winning the Democratic Party nomination for governor, or the general election, until 2013, 2017, or even later -- a lifetime in politics.

Here's another reason to think that Bouchers and Scotts of the world might consider running in 2005: They don't have to give up their seats unless they win. Because Virginia still will be holding gubernatorial elections in odd-number years, members of Congress can keep their seats while running for governor. Virginia's campaign-finance laws would allow them to extract hefty contributions from national interest groups, a source of campaign financing that potential competitors would not enjoy.

The Congressional-incumbent fundraising advantage, as indicated above, loses a lot of its gold plating in 2009, and possibly beyond.

This, then, is why the smart money in Richmond this weekend was betting that Democrats are very likely to have the party's first gubernatorial primary in nearly 30 years. The last one was 1977, and yours truly had the good fortune to be Henry Howell's campaign manager in his upset win over Andy Miller.

In my experience, gubernatorial primaries are the most fun of any campaign, for they are usually far more issue-oriented than general elections, and far more prone to elating upsets. The last Republican gubernatorial primary, held in 1989, saw front-runner Paul Trible lose a double-digit lead to winner J. Marshall Coleman. Contested gubernatorial primaries are thus those rarest of events in modern Virginia politics, a once-in-a-generation contest of great unpredictability for the highest stakes.

The 1989 GOP contest was a three-way race. The last three-way Democratic contest took place in 1969. Back then, Virginia law required a run-off if no candidate got 50 percent in the first primary. Today, it is winner-take-all in the first round, with no majority requirement; the victor is the person who gets the most votes of all those running.

Accordingly, 40 percent is likely to suffice to win a hard-fought, multi-candidate 2005 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

So, Lt. Governor Tim Kaine, who dutifully supports a two-term law, surely must wonder if he has agreed to a Faustian bargain. Clearly, the prospect of being the first governor to serve eight straight years is enticing. But this potential reward requires the acceptance of considerable primary risk.

While Kaine's election calculations are comprehensible, the pro-two term position of former Gov. Jim Gilmore baffles this analyst. If Scott and Boucher, and even Republicans like Congressman Goodlatte, are potentially the big winners from a constitutional amendment, then "Deficit Jim" is potentially one of the big losers.

My hunch is this: Mr. Gilmore didn't actually read the Purkey bill before agreeing to back it, as I have discovered was the case with several other major political players. (More on this angle in another

What does it all mean in terms of 2005?

The smart money says Lt. Governor Kaine has a better than 50-50 chance of avoiding a serious primary challenge as the Constitution now stands. If a two-term law became effective in 2005, however, this analyst would be surprised to see the Lt. Governor get a "walkover," the horse-racing term for a race lacking any real competition.

Who would be the strongest candidate in 2005, either in the general election or the primary, on the Democratic side? I will have to pass on that question, and leave it for the "experts" on Virginia politics, Professors Holsworth and Sabato, to provide those answers.
But I will bet that both professors, along with Gov. Warner's pollster, not to mention the ones for Boucher, Kaine, Payne, Kilgore and Gilmore, will be testing the question should the two-term law seem headed for eventual approval by the voters in November of 2004.

One last thought: A contested primary for governor also will affect the expected 2005 contests for Lt. Governor and Attorney General.

Why? The primary turnout will be hundreds of thousands of votes higher if the gubernatorial nomination is contested. The whole dynamic of the races for these two offices would change dramatically, greatly affecting the current "conventional wisdom" on who is the front-runner for the Democratic nominations for these offices.

From 2009 and on, as I wrote earlier this year in the Washington Post, the two-term law would have a negative, anticompetitive impact on the level of primary and general election competition in Virginia. But for that one year -- 2005 -- it could produce the biggest primary fireworks in the Virginia Democratic Party in more than a generation.

-- February 3, 2002


For the uninitiated, the J-J Dinner is the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, an annual event.


(c) Copyright. All rights reserved. Paul Goldman. 2003.


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Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.