Thirty years ago the Republican Party threw in the towel and nominated a candidate who had no chance to beat Charles Robb for the U.S. Senate and really no chance of giving Robb a semblance of a race. The same thing probably happens again Tuesday, especially if the predictions of a Corey Stewart victory in the primary prove correct. Nobody, including Tim Kaine, should have a free ride to the U.S. Senate and giving him one is embarrassing for the GOP.
Bart Hinkle at the Richmond Times-Dispatch has distilled my thoughts better than I could. If you want to read him and ignore my ramble I won’t complain. I do have a couple of points to add.
Stewart’s showing in the 2017 gubernatorial primary provides a fair basis for expecting to see him on this November’s ballot, especially since Ed Gillespie went on to lose in November 2017. Stewart’s claim that he should have been the nominee and would have won echoes complaints I heard all the way back in 1985. When that year’s GOP ticket for statewide office went 0-3, the chorus went up that the ticket was insufficiently conservative. That’s the standard excuse for an abysmal campaign or a weak candidate.
Stewart on the ballot last year would have added five points to Governor Ralph Northam’s win and might have given Democrats clear control of the House of Delegates. This year the question is what he does to the House of Representatives candidates in a couple of crucial Virginia districts.
Stewart’s recent attacks on Delegate Nick Freitas have me questioning the conventional wisdom about Stewart’s lead, but Freitas’ obvious lack of resources in the primary indicates he will have an equally hard time raising money for November. Money is the key.
In 2001 another very conservative Northern Virginia state legislator, Jay Katzen of Fauquier County, came very close to ending Tim Kaine’s career at the rank of mayor, losing an election Larry Sabato called “a squeaker.” One medium television buy in Northern Virginia, cable even, might have tipped it for Katzen. The message I would have recommended would highlight his connection to Northern Virginia, trying to flip some votes with a regional pitch. Disclaimer: I was involved on a volunteer basis with Katzen, my last real foray into an election.
Imagine how different Virginia would be today if Katzen had won (or Mark Early for that matter – another story). But the conventional wisdom then was that Katzen could not win and the money never appeared. Nobody could ask for a more conservative nominee, but it didn’t matter. He was eventually outspent almost 2-1, a deficit the GOP can only dream about this year no matter who is the nominee.
The other key to that campaign was an inaccurate claim by Katzen that as mayor of Richmond Kaine had taken actions hostile to the Boy Scouts. It wasn’t true and Katzen stopped saying it – but in the final days Kaine’s camp brought it back as a main theme and made Katzen pay a price for his earlier misstatement, with a friendly media chorus backing him up. Katzen lacked the money to counter-punch. Yet it was still a close race largely because the underlying message about Kaine being liberal did resonate and Kaine’s totals substantially trailed Mark Warner’s at the top of his ticket, especially in rural areas.
Accusing your opponent of denying the Boy Scouts the use of a public facility (I think that was the issue) is incredibly tame by today’s standards, but those were simpler times. People frowned on candidates who made up or stretched facts, even when (as Katzen did) they admitted the error. Now telling true believer supporters what they want to hear with zero regard for evidence or truth or civility is the common currency for both parties. Every issue is a shibboleth; any doctrinal variation a sin.
Freitas the former Green Beret reminds me of Katzen, a career foreign service officer who went on after losing to a leadership role in the Peace Corps. If you saw Jay driving across the state in his beaten-up sedan (today it would be a pick-up) you’d never imagine him going toe-to-toe with Nikolai Ceausescu, but he had a real-deal diplomatic career. Authenticity matters.
Normally that would include Stewart with his legal career and long local government service, as well, but he has buried that advantage under Trump-style invective, rabid anti-immigrant nativism and a 100-year-time warp back to the Lost Cause, a Minnesotan waving the Stars and Bars. Inauthenticity matters.
I hate to just dismiss E.W. Jackson but he had his statewide opportunity in 2013 and lost. Some Republicans continue to believe that if they nominate black candidates they can cut into racial pattern voting, but if it didn’t work with George H. W. Bush on the ballot (the aforementioned 1988) it sure won’t work with Trump in the White House.
Come October all Stewart and Kaine would be talking about is Trump and General Lee. Freitas conceivably would have a chance to force Kaine to discuss and defend his positions and votes. First we have to see if he gets a chance to try.