National Issues Don’t Play Well in Richmond

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, made an interesting observation about the Virginia governor’s race in today’s Wall Street Journal:

[Jerry] Kilgore “ran on what voters, at least here in Virginia, perceive as national issues: guns, immigration, gay rights, death penalty. That strategy failed. … The odd thing is that if Mr. Kilgore had been running against [Tim] Kaine for the Senate, he might have won.

Senate races are highly ideological in Virginia. But governor’s contests are quite different: They are non-ideological. Mr. Kaine adjusted to this reality, jettisoning the liberalism of his days as mayor of Richmond. Mr. Kilgore stuck to his conservative views with only a few fudges.”

There may be something to do this. Many Virginians emphasize the ideological qualifications of the warriors they send into the hyper-polarized environment of Washington, D.C. That doesn’t mean they like the polarization — they just understand that the state’s two senators are powerless to change it, and they might as well send representatives to Washington equipped to do battle there. But electing a governor is a different matter. A governor can set the tone for a state, as Mark Warner so clearly did. A huge majority of voters appreciate Warner’s pragmatic, problem-solving approach. Tim Kaine got the message, Jerry Kilgore did not.

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10 responses to “National Issues Don’t Play Well in Richmond”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I’ve been wondering if even the local issues matter. Transportation was seen as a big problem, but Virginians didn’t seem to blame Mark Warner for the problem, and they didn’t seem to really care about the plans of any of the governor candidates.

    But it was a major focus in the delegate elections.

    Could it be we want a good leader, a good manager, a person who can get along with the legislature and keep them in check?

    This theory would explain how so many states with strong one-party advantages in the legislature pick candidates of the other party for governor.

  2. Will Vehrs Avatar

    This could be the ground on which a great compromise could be reached within the Virginia GOP. Fight social policy and other ideological battles in Federal elections; fight fiscal and governance issues in state elections. Each side tolerates the other every other year.

    I suspect Virginia Republicans would see no turnover in Congress and the Senate, but would be more competitive in state-wide offices and in certain state House and Senate races.

  3. NoVA Scout Avatar

    My fellow parishioner, Mr. Barnes, distills down a point that has been fuzzing around in my mind, but which I have had trouble articulating. Mr Vehrs puts some polish on it. A lot of the ideological distraction in state and local races is a contagion from national politics. It has its place there, but it doesn’t always translate well when you get down to the grinding surfaces of providing government to the people. The failure to distinguish between the nature of the two types of governance (federal representational and state/local executives) may be one the more prominent of several elements that harmed us earlier in the week.

  4. Will, I think you right on. State candidates, especially in suburban areas, need to concentrate on fiscal policy. GOPs always win on those issues. Social issues are usually not winning issues for us in NOVA. Thats what cost us this election as well as a few house seats.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Each of 100 HD and 40 SD seats, as well as the Congressional Districts, is different – one from another. Cookie cutters are only good for cookie dough.

    Social issues alone won’t win. Fiscal issues alone won’t win. Defense/Security issues alone won’t win. The mix of what does win is different in each district – House, Senate and Congressional.

    The Candidate who figures it out – wins.

    Moreover, Virginia voters are discerning. You have to be FOR something. If the voters can name 1 to 3 reasons to vote for you, you might well win.

  6. Avatar

    Barnes’ assessment is right on for the governor’s race. That’s the only way that Doug Wilder could actually have won the election – he was an urban liberal with a civil rights flair, but he recast himself as a law&order, fiscal conservative dealing with the budgetary reality left by his predecessors.

    The GOP has to learn that lesson – in the Federalist system where you prize states’ rights, the state government must be run well and be responsive to citizens’ concerns. Otherwise, you lose your signature issue and prove the left correct. If you’re working in state politics and you hate government, then be a libertarian, not a Reaganite (after all, The Gipper was a really powerful and active governor in CA). For example, I’ve been in Florida all week on the Gulf Coast, and what I see is that Jeb Bush has run a tight ship – good government at the state level is conservatism at its best.

    — Conaway

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I take this sort of commentary in the spirit it is delivered: complete disdain for anything other than a careful political script. The conservative argument in defense of Kaine’s win is that he ran as a conservative. While Barnes makes some well-taken points, his ultiamte argument is simply an attempt to mold around that ridiculous and defensive theme that the White House has chosen. It’s as transparent a strategy as it is pathetic.

    Barnes is certainly right that Kaine rightly focused far more (or at least tried to before being diverted by Kilgore’s attacks) on local and state issues that folks cared about. But trying to avoid polarization and stick to issues is not “conservatism.” In fact, it’s a stand _against_ everything that modern movement conservatism stands for: the scorched earth attacks, the transformation of every single issue into a partisan black-and-white struggle. Kaine won because he was the true centrist.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    He is on to something. At the end of the day there is no Republican or Democrat way to fill a pothole. Just fix the damn pothole.

    The problem for the R’s is that they don’t fix potholes well – see Gilmore, Bush, Libby, etc. The public, when given a choice of quality candidates, has given up on the Republican’s ability to take care of the business of government.

  9. Jennifer Pullinger Avatar
    Jennifer Pullinger

    Well-articulated analysis of Kaine’s win by the Weekly Standard. It will be interesting to see how Kaine’s administration develops through the course of his Governorship, ie. will he attempt to be as pragmatic as Warner.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “He is on to something. At the end of the day there is no Republican or Democrat way to fill a pothole. Just fix the damn pothole.”

    Not necessarily true. The Republican way of filling a pothole is to arrange a press conference, dig a NEW pothole in the existing treet, bring in the press, film Gov. Arnold dumping some rocks into the hole, and then declare him a strong pothole-filler. Then you send him home to help put even more incompetant folks in charge of pothole filling.

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