A Defeat for Bush? No, a Defeat for Kilgore

I’m posting a missive from John Farmer, a Richmond intellectual property attorney and a friend of mine, who felt compelled to e-mail his post-election analysis to friends and associates this morning. I thought it worth adding to the blog. Jim Bacon

The recent Virginia gubernatorial election is being spun mainly as a defeat for President Bush, in addition to being a setback for the Republican Party generally. Past electoral history contradicts this analysis. See the chart below.

Notice that, since the advent of modern politics – the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 – the party that wins the national election always LOSES the Virginia governorship the next year.

Next, notice how all three statewide offices go. Beginning again with the modern era, no Republican held statewide office until Allen and Gilmore won on 1993, immediately after Clinton’s reelection. Beginning with that 1993 election, the Republicans won 2 (1993), 2 (1997), 1 (2001) and 1 or 2 (likely 2, but AG race isn’t clearly resolved). McDonnell appears to be leading narrowly. No downward trend there for Republicans.

Next, notice that, if McDonnell wins, this will be the first election in the modern era in which the party that won the governorship lost BOTH down ticket races. Stated conversely, starting in 1981, the party that won the governorship always won at least one down-ticket race.

So what conclusions can we draw? One theory is that middle-ground Virginia voters are fickle – they are always dissatisfied with the person holding the Presidency and vote in, narrowly, the other party to the governorship the next year in Virginia.

That theory doesn’t really hold water well. Virginia hasn’t voted Democratic for President since Johnson. Thus, while mushy-middle Virginians may have been dissatisfied with Clinton, and Clinton may not have been a positive force for Terry or Beyer, they mostly didn’t vote for Clinton.

The best explanation is that Virginians in the middle don’t tend to link their vote for President and their vote for Virginia Governor the next year, and don’t let the perceived performance of the former dictate the election of the latter. If they did, almost every, if not every, Virginia’s governor’s race would have come out the opposite way.

Here’s my take:

First — Jerry Kilgore ran a lousy race. Unlike Allen or Gilmore, he didn’t seize on a single, positive issue with which to play offense in the election (parole abolition, car tax elimination). Instead, like Early, he tried to glide through under the assumption that having an “R” after his name would carry the day. He ran an unfocused, sometimes shallow, sometimes demeaning campaign. On top of that, he treated the AG position entirely as a stepping-stone for Governor rather than an office that was an end itself and to be managed toward excellence, and many people (including many Republicans) picked up on that and didn’t like it.

On the other hand, Kaine ran a disciplined campaign. He hid his liberalism under a bushel basket, feigned some seemingly conservative positions, and his naturally sunny demeanor shined through.

Second – A big reason why Republicans win national elections is national security. That issue is largely out of the picture in state elections. Thus, for a Republican to win statewide office, he must pick an issue on which to play offense and ride it hard. Just showing up won’t do.


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18 responses to “A Defeat for Bush? No, a Defeat for Kilgore”

  1. You mean like the death penalty?

    What a joke. The voters want substance, which neither campaing really supplied.

    Where was the in-depth debate over taxes, transportation, and the environment? (Note: though voters are knee-jerk against tax increases, polls show they would volunteer their own money for a cleaner Bay)

    This was just a popularity contest between candidates and their parties, when it should be about a lot more.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    This ain’t rocket science. Last year 3.2 million Virginians voted and yesterday just under 2 million did — a drop off of 1.2 million voters, most of them for Bush. Virginia Beach’s turnout was 37 peorcent — with a hometown candidate! It is almost like we are two different states in odd and even election years. But the one constant — hundreds of thousands (now more than a million) occasional voters who see a duty to vote on the presidential ballot but need to be wooed to the polls at other times.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Or try this one on for size. Republicans haven’t proven the ability to the voters to manage the state effectively once elected. The voters imply do not trust republicans to do what they say they will do and they don’t trust republicans to deal with crises that require creative thinking and flexibility. The dogmas that make republicans good candidates often prove to be their undoing once elected as managing a government requires pragmatism and flexibility. And at last check, campaign consultants hate those two words.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    “First — Jerry Kilgore ran a lousy race. Unlike Allen or Gilmore, he didn’t seize on a single, positive issue with which to play offense in the election (parole abolition, car tax elimination). Instead, like Early, he tried to glide through under the assumption that having an “R” after his name would carry the day. He ran an unfocused, sometimes shallow, sometimes demeaning campaign. On top of that, he treated the AG position entirely as a stepping-stone for Governor rather than an office that was an end itself and to be managed toward excellence, and many people (including many Republicans) picked up on that and didn’t like it.”

    No offense, but I find this whole paragraph a little offensive. People who are willing to say AFTER THE FACT that his campaign was lousy, that his AG term was lackluster and PR-driven, I just can’t respect. Why didn’t you say this out loud before when the election was going on? If he had won, would you have said it? As much as it doesn’t hurt my feelings to see the long knives come out for Kilgore after the fact, the fact that these views were kept mostly under wraps is not very commendable.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon 2:18. Concerns over the campaign and issues surfaced last Spring. I wrote about them in my column for the tiny Yorktown Crier/Poquoson Post and on some Virginia websites read by maybe 20 people. Concerns were voiced in some Republican meetings at the District and Committee level as well as in emails to the campaign. But, alas alack, they mattered not. So, some folks spoke up until the time came to just cheer the candidate on and hope – and work – for the best. Tant pis.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    The funny thing is, for all those Demorats calling this win a result of Bush’s approval rating, and if Bob McDonnell wins, there will be two (R)s elected out of a possible three slots.

    No other President has done that, not even Reagan nor Clinton.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Ahh, so that is the new spin. Bush’s visit in Richmond wasn’t for Kilgore as his candidacy was already sunk. No, no, no. Bush came for the downticket folks. The President came to Virginia to give a boost to the downticket candidates at the risk of appearing to lose political capital when Kilgore lost.

    Wow. Even my head is spinning after that piece of historic revision. But I give the R’s credit, with spin like that, Bolling and McDowell may be able to get their plans for the teaching of intelligent design through the legislature sooner than later.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Who cares who won? More of the same crap. Other than the abortion issue, the parties are virtually the same. This election you had a choice between a candidate with a bad accent or a candidate with a bad haircut.

  9. Mike Rothfeld Avatar
    Mike Rothfeld

    I’ll probably send thoughts to select friends in a day or two. But quick and dirty …

    Kaine moved a bit right, Kilgore pathetically had it all ways and, most important, Kilgore was a pitiful candidate in person and his campaign was worse (the attack ad on death penalty was stupidly telegraphed and they were swamped by Kaine’s expert defense, which began WEEKS before the attack ad ran — idiots [thank goodness]).

    The Commonwealth is better for it, especially with Bolling winning with far more votes while being clearly pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax … even Larry Sabatoge couldn’t spin it as a conservative defeat.

    Too bad about Black and Craddock though, but I blame Kilgore for both.

    Now, to continue the fight to discipline the liberal-scum Republicans in the House and Senate. It is a long process, but it must be done.

    best regards

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Precisely my point. What an amazing turnaround in spin! Tim kaine was the most liberal candidate for Governor in Virginian history… now suddenly he’s a conservative Democrat (not just a centrist or a moderate, as he actually is, but a conservative!). He ran on, let’s see: defending the largest tax increase in Virginian history. Massive new school spending. Allowing localities to exempt homeowners from some of the assesed value of their homes… if they so desire! Defending a woman’s right to choose eevn while not liking abortion. What a conservative guy!

    Here’s another fun recap of what conservatives said before the election, and what they say after:

    Before: Let us gloat, for Mark Warner’s ads endorsing Kaine caused no bump in Kaine’s numbers at all. Kaine’s no Warner, and the voters know it.
    After: Ahhh, it’s all just because Warner is so popular

    Before: Leslie Byrne is the most liberal candidate ever (even a little more liberal than Tim Kaine!) She is dead in the water: has NO chance of even coming close. She loses by 10 points at least. Deeds too.
    After: Ha, they lost by a percentage point or so! That’s a resounding defeat for a Democrats that openly supports gay marriage in Virginia!

    Before: Our 72hour plan is an unbeatable turnout machine! The Democrats have nothing like it!
    After: er… Tim Kaine is a conservative!

    And so on. It truly is fun to read back through conservative blogs and find them boldly contradicting everything they’ve ever said in an effort to avoid the conclusion that they were either wrong before, lying before, or spinning now in order to avoid having to admit that they got beat and beat good.

    Chesapeake and Virginia Beach went Democratic. That’s INSANE. But the conservative line is: “oh, it’s just the status quo, ho hum….”

    Truly amazing what you can convince yourself when you need to…

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Puh-leez. Rs underestimated Kaine from Day One. He’s made a career of exceeding expectations. He planned and executed a (nearly) flawless campaign. He took the fight to Rs on their own turf, and won more than his share of those battles. Warner delivered what most Virginians want — Ds, Is and Rs included.

    I can’t imagine a better endorsement of executive leadership than a great, fearless campaign run by a candidate who has the ability to instill confidence in the electorate (or at least the majority of the electorate).

    Warner proved the theorem. That helped a great deal. In the end, Kaine simply rolled on to victory.

    Rs would do well to heed the lesson. I would welcome having two centrists to choose from next time. Now THAT would be a helluva race.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    I really do find it amazing that Republicans are spinning this as anything other than what it was… a huge defeat for the idea that Virginia is a reliably Republican state. It’s quite obvious from the LG and AG totals that Potts pulled no voters from Kaine in the only race which offered the opportunity for well-meaning Republicans to express their dismay at the smarmy tactics of their party’s leaders. Which means that the right-wing Republican vote is 46%.

    The right Democratic presidential candidate *will* win Virginia. And personally, I’m sending a contribution to Sam Brownback today. I can’t think of a better Republican candidate to make that happen.

    To my friends at the Obenshain Center… keep it up boys. Virginia voters are getting demonstrably tired of the divisive, negative, and yes, hate-filled campaigns.

    Oh yeah… hmmm… Tom Davis. Tasty.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Hmmm. John Farmer’s analysis looks surprisingly like the Dee Cee GOP talking points. Read for yourself.

    http://hotlineblog.nationaljournal.com/archives/2005/11/get_yer_gop_tal.html#more

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    “The President came to Virginia to give a boost to the downticket candidates at the risk of appearing to lose political capital when Kilgore lost. Wow. Even my head is spinning after that piece of historic revision.”

    Thank You! I thought somebody should remind the R’s how Grade A spin looks. Heaven knows we didn’t see much of it when it was needed. But I do think it has some validity. SDH

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    A comment from a voter who is getting more and more disillusioned with the GOP –

    The GOP has historically been the refuge of conservative business people and rural voters. Most of us are pretty reliably Republican. That means we want elected officials who understand the issues of business, the issues of rural communities, and that have credible life experience. We want limited government, but what there is to be run well. Most of us have a definite libertarian streak (the government that governs best governs least.)

    That has, in the past few decades, meant perceiving GOP candidates as reliable, practical people, and Democrats as fuzzy idealogues. But that’s changing.

    Past couple of years, I’ve gotten involved with an issue group (doesn’t split Repub/Dem – not a hot button issue either way.) So I’ve been following politics. I’m a small business person. My relatives have run for office (local and general assembly), mostly as Republicans. I don’t believe in abortion. I could care less who gay people sleep with and I believe the morality of their choice is between them and God.

    Take it from a voter who WANTS to be a Republican – and who has ties to the Republicans – for those of us who are not idealogues – guys, you’re scaring us. A lot.

    The people I saw VCAP running had no credible life experience, many came off as whack jobs, and they appeared to not care a whit about rural issues or business – and not to have the life experience to ground their thoughts on either.

    I saw Republican bloggers and candidates describing public schools as socialism, defining birth control pills as abortions, and hoping for all sorts of intrusive social meddling. Guys, I don’t want an intrusive progressive government, but I also don’t want an intrusive conservative government either. The two – intrusive and conservative – are not compatible, IMHO.

    I am seeing my views (which I have historically considered conservative) decried repeatedly as being moderate and out of touch. I am also seeing a GOP that increasingly considers my concerns irrelevant.

    If you look at the candidates that won, Kaine was closely allied to Warner. Warner, embarassingly, has more business experience and business “street cred” than any prominent Republican on the ticket.

    Deeds, who made a solid candidacy, has good credibility on rural issues and a solid record as a moderate – and had made personal efforts to reach out to business and rural voters.

    Byrne was an anti-business whack job and I was petrified she’d win.

    The VCAP whack jobs, from what I can see, all lost, and despite my being a Republican, I thanked God for that.

    Marrs I thought had been extrememly unchristian in his campaigning and I was glad he lost.

    When you look at the results and start thinking about your base, please realize two things. First of all, a lot of people who do not believe in abortion are not particularly fundamentalist on other issues (gay rights, outlawing birth control pills, etc.) and are actually turned off by young Turks haranging them on social issues.

    Second, a lot of us care more about common sense, life experience, and a commitment to limited government than we do about tax pledges, accusations of being pro-gay, or rants on who is most idealogically pure.

    I voted for Bush twice. I have considered myself a solid Republican. This year I voted for Kaine and Deeds – even though Kaine is more liberal than I care for – because I felt they were more practical and, in a true sense, more conservative. I voted for my Republican delegate, who is a solid guy.

    I don’t know if, in polls, you are counting me as the Christian Right or not, because I’m anti-abortion. But you are losing me – and IMHO a lot of other people – because you are falling into the same hole that the Democrats did.

    I wish I could tell the Republican party – your base is also rural voters and business people, and you’ve left us. Please come back.

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Regarding:

    “At 4:13 PM, Anonymous said…
    Ahh, so that is the new spin. Bush’s visit in Richmond wasn’t for Kilgore as his candidacy was already sunk. No, no, no. Bush came for the downticket folks. The President came to Virginia to give a boost to the downticket candidates at the risk of appearing to lose political capital when Kilgore lost.”

    Put down your George Soros crack pipe before you post a reply to my statements. If you want an opinion, I’ll give you one.

    The only party that can’t win elections is your party which is baes in hatred, spin, rhetoric, vitriol and racism.

    My post was an opinion, that you discounted, typical of “tolerant” liberals.

    I’ll type this slowly so that you can understand better: Republicans can’t lose when the incumbent ALREADY occupied the position. No conservative in their right mind would ever think a (R) would be elected in New Jersey or in VA when a Republican is holding down the fort in the oval office.

    YOU WERE THE INCUMBENT. You held the status quo in an off year election cycle. The only spin is coming from your philosophically bankrupt party.

    No other president has had two out of the top three VA slots go to his own party until W came along.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “No other president has had two out of the top three VA slots go to his own party until W came along.”

    Awesome stuff. With that line of reasoning, I should expect W out my way tomorrow to help with that critical Board of Supervisors election next year. Insame spin.

    Again, it bears repeating. You believe that the Republican Party of Virginia needed a Presidential visit at the last minute to beat back the most liberal candidate to ever run for statewide elective office in the history of the commonwealth (Byrne) AND a hick lawyer from Highland County which most Virginians can’t find on a map who was outspent by his Republican candidate significantly.

    Good lord, your logic makes Virginia sound like Maryland. When did we become so solidly blue that it takes POTUS to get Republicans elected? Mark Warner must be more powerful than I ever imagined.

    Try this spin on for size, it’s much easier and much more accurate.

    The Republicans won the down ticket races because they nominated serious candidates with better resumes and better statewide appeal than their gubernatorial candidate.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    “The only party that can’t win elections is your party which is baes in hatred, spin, rhetoric, vitriol and racism.”

    It seems that Virginians don’t agree. They picked YOUR party for that gold medal this year.

    “Republicans can’t lose when the incumbent ALREADY occupied the position.”

    Oh how quickly the tune changes. Warner was supposed to be a singular fluke. Kaine was a dead duck: having NO chance against Kilgore, who represented a true Virginian. Everyone pegged Kaine as the underdog. And yet, he crushed you. But now, suddenly, the story is that this is no big deal, totally unsurprising.

    Allow me to have a little chuckle at how sad and silly that turnaround is.

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