UPDATE: Jim Moran's office got in touch to say the Congressman is not under investigation and denies any wrongdoing with respect to PMA. I have changed the wording of the post below with respect to Rep. Moran to more clearly reflect the publicly-reported status of this matter.
Despite some substantive differences among the three Democratic candidates for Governor, virtually every Democrat is certain that either Creigh, Terry McAuliffe or Brian Moran would be a far superior choice to Bob McDonnell, come November.
Given this, one huge factor Democratic primary voters should have on their minds in choosing a Gubernatorial candidate is which one has the best shot of winning in November.
Such a determination now necessarily involves a great deal of speculation, but that doesn’t mean the determination should not be made. Indeed, at one time or another, each candidate or their supporters have argued why they have the best chance to beat McDonnell, each following a different model of a recent Democratic statewide victory. Moran claims he will be able to run up the total in NoVA and Hampton Roads needed to beat McDonnell (Webb). Creigh claims he will have stronger appeal to the Independents and moderate Republicans a Democrat needs to win statewide in the Commonwealth (Warner). Terry McAuliffe claims he will have the biggest bankroll, and his outsider status and message of change will bring new voters into the process (Obama).
Depending upon which candidate you support, each of these arguments also has a counter-argument of why they are flawed.
There is also the problem of an uncertain political environment. 2008 was, to say the least, an upheaval election. The sheer numbers of people who went to the polls, in Virginia and nationwide, was mind-boggling. Will this level of interest be sustained without the drama of an Obama/Clinton battle, or without the historical potential of electing the first African-American president, or without the palatable anger at the Bush administration and the overwhelming feeling that we were veering badly off-course in the United States?
To try to get a more objective set of criteria with which to evaluate the prospects of each Democratic candidate, I went back to a 2002 article by UVA Professor Larry Sabato in which he discusses the overarching factors that provided “ten keys to the Governor’s mansion” from 1969 to 2001. (Sabato, Larry, “A Democratic Revival in Virginia,” The Virginia News Letter, February, 2002).
As Sabato dismantled the nine elections he looked at, he scored each of his defined criteria as either favoring the Democrat, the Republican or as Neutral. Each criteria counted equally, and Sabato simply counted up his results. In all nine elections, whichever candidate had an advantage in the number of “ten keys” which mitigated to his benefit, he won the election. I applied the ‘Ten keys” to 2005, and it easily “predicted” a Kaine victory.
Obviously, in assigning a winner to each criteria, there is a fair amount of subjectivity and ample room for debate. That said, applying Sabato's "ten keys" leaves either Creigh or McAuliffe with a claim to having the best chance to beat McDonnell, and Moran as presenting the greatest risk of losing.
Here, then, are the “ten keys” and, based on my assessment, what they predict for how each Democrat might fare in the general election (obviously, these circumstances can change between now and election day):
1. The economy, as measured by changes in per capita income and the unemployment rate in the twelve months prior to Election Day.
Advantage to the R.
2. Campaign Organization and Technology
Neutral. Potential edge to D if Mcauliffe is nominee.
3. Candidate Personality and Appeal
Neutral. All four candidates are likable enough people.
4. Retrospective Judgment on Previous Governor
Advantage to the D.
5. Presidential Popularity as measured by public opinion poll ratings for the six months prior to election day.
Advantage to the D.
Neutral, with the following proviso: Scandal, by its nature, is unpredictable, but it bears mentioning that Brian Moran’s big brother Jim has been repeatedly mentioned in the press in connection with the PMA scandal as a recipient of PMA donations and as a political ally of Rep. James Murtha, Appropriations Committee Chairman. If that develops further, it would swing this category solidly to “Advantage to the R,” but I would note that Jim Moran's office denies he is under investigation or that he has done anything wrong.
7. Party Unity.
Neutral. While Democrats obviously have a divisive primary, there is more serious civil war in the GOP ranks. Still, if Democrats are unable to rally around the primary winner, the short-term advantage for this key will go to the R.
8. Campaign Money.
Neutral. This will be a closely watched race with national implications. Money will not be a problem for either candidate. Still, if McAuliffe is the nominee, it may turn “Advantage to the D.”
9. Prior Office Experience of Candidates (where statewide elective office is given more weight that a district or local office).
Neutral if Creigh is the Democratic nominee. Advantage to the R if Moran or McAuliffe is the nominee.
10. Special Issues and Dominant Circumstance.
Impossible to determine at this point in time.
So, the result for the nine categories we were able to evaluate is as follows (assuming Democrats come together over our nominee):
* McDonnell v. Creigh: D (+1)
* McDonnell v. McAuliffe: N (provisionally D+2 based on campaign organization and technology and potential fundraising ability)
* McDonnell v. Moran: N (provisionally R+1 based on scandal risk associated with Jim Moran)