Creigh Deeds

The "bad candidate" excuse

An instant explanation has been advanced by the Left to explain away the beat-down they received in Massachusetts Tuesday.

Well, what do you expect? Martha Coakley was simply a bad candidate

I'm not going to pretend Coakley did a stellar job. Indeed, the last week of her campaign was so full of bizarre gaffes as to wonder if this was Joe Biden after doing really, really bad peyote. But, we are talking about a 100,000 vote clock cleaning.  Prior to Martha deciding to turn her footwear into snack food something had gone wrong for the Democrats in Massachusetts.

The prominent polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies, offered this take on the Coakley collapse.

It’s not all her fault.  It’s the policies she supported that were more to blame.  She won the Democratic primary trouncing her opponents and was clearly the best candidate the party had to offer in the state.  She’d won statewide in convincing fashion.  She was a proven quantity.  And, yet this race wasn’t even close.

After watching Creigh Deeds, Jon Corzine and now Martha Coakley go down in flames, do you really think that the one thing they had in common was that they were below average candidates running sub-par campaigns?

The question I have is: when exactly did Creigh Deeds, Jon Corzine and Martha Coakley become "bad candidates"?

Certaintly not in the primaries. Deeds clobbered two better funded rivals (Terry McAulliffe and Brian Moran) in the VA primary.   Deeds had also faced Bob McDonnell before, and barely lost the 2005 AG race. He then lost to the same opponent for Governor in 2009 and the margin of defeat expanded by a factor of 1000.

 In New Jersey, Jon Corzine hardly broke a sweat dispatching his primary opponents. And while NJ Democrats may have considered swapping him out for Corey Booker, Richard Codey or Frank Pallone, in the end the completely venal NJ Democrats thought Corzine gave them their best chance of victory.

Now Martha Coakley. She was elected Attorney General in 2006 with 73% of the vote. In the Senate race ,she defeated a field of Democratic opponents --including a popular House member and a free spending businessman--convincingly.  

She entered 2010 with a million dollars cash-on-hand and an apparent wide lead in the polls.  So what happened to suddenly make her a "bad candidate"?

Seems the common denominator here is contact with the general electorate, now doesn't it?.

Once the calendar turned to 2010 and Martha Coakley couldn't fall back on the standard liberal bromides, well, she fell apart.  Perhaps she never expected  to be pressed in dark blue MA. But what part of the political environment this year won't inflict this damage on any Democrat whom the Republicans press hard?  

David Plouffe better have the "bad candidate" excuse on his favorites list this cycle. He'll need it. 

One final note. In all three epic losses the Democrats have pursued a strategy of victory by disqualification.  In Virginia, an ancient thesis was supposed to make McDonnell unpalatable; in New Jersey, the Corzine camp sought tp turn the election into a referendum on mammograms, and last week Coakley's thin straw was to allege Scott Brown hated rape victims.

I think even Ray Charles could see a pattern here.

Sure I know the argument about " well, we had to try and win ugly".  Message to Democrats: voters have noticed who's getting ugly. Perhaps that's why the results for your party have been...hmmmm, ugly.


2009 Alt Histories

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it might be useful to look at the off-year election and consider what alternative strategies might have yielded.  One thing I've learned about politics is never to buy determinism; there are always a variety of possible outcomes.

Well, here's a few scenarios:

a) Terry McAulliffe was the Democratic nominee for Virginia Governor

It's what everyone expected. Would he have done better than Deeds; or was his weak primary showing evidence he'd have been roadkill in the general election?

b) Jon Corzine stands down on October 1;  NJ Dems do the "Torricelli switch" to Rep. Frank Pallone or Newark Mayor Cory Booker

In retrospect, my belief that Corzine was burnt toast proved correct. It's hard to fault his campaign for his loss, the voters simply wanted him gone. But what if after using Corzine's cash to bloody up Christie the NJ Dems threw a "relief pitcher" into the race? Different outcome? Or would NJ voters reacted poorly to this strategy being used twice? 

c) Deeds runs as an anti-Obama "New Democrat" ala Mark Warner; focuses on downstate VA


d) Deeds runs as a outspoken Obamabot and focuses on NOVA

The consensus is Deeds did neither well and got crushed. Would choosing one or the other have made any difference?

e) No one outside NY State comes to the aid of Doug Hoffman

The Club for Growth, Sarah Palin, Erick Erickson and Glenn Beck are credited or blamed for what happened in NY 23. Given what happened in the local state senate race in 2004, I think the NY Conservative Party was capable under its own power to ensure Scozzafava's defeat? Agree? Disagree?

And what would the national impact of a "quiet" Owens victory have been?

Throw some other possible scenarios out there. Let's reverse engineer these races if we can.

Obama camp: Gives up on VA Gov and NY 23.

At 12:13 pm EDT 10/31/09 , Barack Obama's personal political arm, Organizing for America, sent this e-mail to their list

President Obama needs our help.On Tuesday, voters in New Jersey will go to the polls to elect their next Governor. They'll face a stark choice between Chris Christie -- who will bring failed Bush-era policies back to New Jersey -- and Governor Jon Corzine, who has fought side-by-side with President Obama.Jon Corzine is the only candidate in the race who will be a strong partner for President Obama and work with him to fix our broken health care system and get our economy back on track.So President Obama is counting on us to call Corzine supporters and make sure they show up at the polls Tuesday. In a tight race like this, calling just two or three voters could make the difference -- and our online tool will make calling quick and easy. Get started now:Call Corzine supporters in New Jersey and turn out the vote. 

One can only infer from the omission of any other Democratic candidates that at the last minute the Obama White House has thrown in the towel on VA Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds and NY 23 Democratic candidate Bill Owens, and is doubling down solely on trying to salvage the re-election bid of Jon Corzine, who pulled his own "October surprise" against himself Friday suggesting to the NY Times massive toll hikes on the NJ Turnpike were likely after he gets re-elected.  Which he now denies. Sure. 

We'll see if all of Obama's horses and all of Obama's men can put an incompetent Governor in office again.



The Relevance of Newspaper Endorsements

For a while, I thought that newspaper endorsements were irrelevant, that most people didn't care what a bunch of editorial staff writers thought.  For general election Presidential contests, I think this is still true.  This is the case in most state and local general elections as well.

But I do think that newspaper endorsements are valuable in primary elections, depending upon the ideological orientation of the editorial page.  The Washington Post's endorsement of Creigh Deeds may have been the spark that got him the momentum to wallop Terry McAuliffe.  It's no secret that the Post has a liberal editorial page (though less reflexively liberal than the New York Times).  For its Northern Virginia readers, especially in the Democratic enclaves of Arlington and Alexandria, the Post is a very influential political and cultural authority.  Previous to the Post endorsement, Deeds was sort of an obscure, rural Democrat who would seem to have real problems competing in NoVa with McLean based McAuliffe and Alexandria native Moran.  But once the Post gave their seal of approval to Deeds, he became acceptable to NoVa liberals, not to mention a source of curiosity as reflected in the Google search spike Patrick has highlighted.  I guess Democratic primary voters liked what they saw in Deeds.

I think a comparable analogue in recent years was the Manchester Union-Leader's endorsement of John McCain in December 2007.  As you may recall, McCain was left for dead in the summer of 2007 after the failure of Amnesty part two.  McCain never left the race and changed to a scaled down campaign.  After problems with the Giuliani campaign began showing up, McCain had the opportunity to win the 40-45% of the Republican primary voters that shifted between Giuliani and McCain.  Starting in November, McCain began coming back from the dead as many voters were willing to give McCain another chance in light of other campaigns falling apart.

The Union-Leader is perhaps the most influential conservative editorial page in the country behind the Wall Street Journal.  This outsized influence was due to New Hampshire's first in the nation primary and the low tax advocacy by the Loeb family, owners of the paper.  To put it mildly, the Union-Leader has credibility with New Hampshire conservatives.  So when they came out for McCain, it elevated him to serious contender in New Hampshire, and soon after, the rest of the country.

The common element with both endorsements is that they were in primary elections and they were made by papers with well known ideological slants.  Their endorsements were influential because members of each party's ideological base trusted that paper's editorial page as an arbiter of good political sense.  By contrast, the Union-Leader's general election endorsement was virtually meaningless, considering that anyone who likes the Union-Leader was already voting for McCain, while those who didn't wouldn't pay attention anyway.  I suspect that the Post's nearly certain general election endorsement will not have much of an impact either.

Does Money Even Matter in Elections Anymore?

In Virginia today, this lost: 

How many times do I have to say it? In the modern campaign, early money and establishment support matters far, far less than it used to, and could actually turn out to be a handicap -- particularly when money becomes the story. 

Campaigns like McAuliffe's that are focused above all else on money, and that put out self-congratulatory press releases about their "grassroots organization" and their Noah's Ark of big-name consultants, frequently forget that money can't buy two other M's: message and momentum. As a campaign manager, I'd much, much rather be running the guy with a message and no money versus the guy with money and no message. Why? Because the guy with a message will eventually find momentum, which will deliver all the money he needs when he needs it. 

Of course, political consultants (and, disclosure: I'm one), like early money and quarterly numbers stories because they determine whether and how much they will get paid. But the reality is that money rarely translates into votes, particularly when fundraising is a fig leaf covering up glaring flaws in a candidate's argument. Ask Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani (who raised more than any other Republican from individuals, all for a single delegate) what having big, early bundler money gets you.  

I didn't predict Creigh Deeds would be the nominee until last week, but I did have a strong sense that Terry McAuliffe would crater once this DC fixer met grassroots reality. Placing me squarely in the analytical minority inside the Beltway, I tweeted this on January 29th:

Syndicate content