Wednesday, July 1, 2009

GOP Strategy Against Deeds is an Admission They Hold Weak Cards

Yesterday, Bob Holsworth at Virginia Tomorrow detailed the GOP playbook against Creigh Deeds for 2009, namely, tie him to Tim Kaine:
Republicans assume that Kaine has little flexibility on issues- his role essentially requires him to defend whatever policies emerge from the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress over the next four months.

Health care reform. Overdue.

Cap and trade. Farsighted energy policy.

Card check. Leveling the playing field for workers.

Climate Change. Let’s act quickly and decisively.

And whatever Nancy Pelosi comes up with…

Regardless of how warmly these proposals are likely to be received in Virginia.

And the GOP intends to ask Deeds (over and over again) what he thinks about the policies that Kaine has no choice but to defend.

That strategy is somewhat counter-intuitive, as Deeds himself is seeking to tie himself to Gov. Kaine. Still, I get the logic behind what Holsworth says the Republicans are doing, and think it is pretty smart. If the RPV is able to nationalize the election, it could even work-- indeed, it might be their only path to victory.

In any case, Lowell has a post up at Blue Virginia that effectively and convincingly knocks the wind out of a strategy based on tying Deeds to one of the more popular Virginia politicians, on the basis that he is not the most popular. Analyzing a copious amount of poll data amid other convincing arguments, Lowell concludes, “[I]f that’s the best the Republicans got, I’m not too worried.”

More interestingly, the GOP strategy appears to fly in the face of the dynamics and issues that look likely to drive this election, and the adoption of this risky strategy of misdirection at this early stage, whether ultimately successful or not, represents a clear acknowledgement that Republicans in Virginia are holding a weak hand.

It is important at the outset to draw a distinction between the issues that will drive this election within the Commonwealth, and how the rest of the country, and most significantly, our lazy, unoriginal, national media with a tendency toward group think, will report this election.

The 2009 Virginia Gubernatorial race will not be a referendum on Obama or national issues within the Commonwealth, despite the desire of our national chattering class for it to fulfill that role. While the popularity of the President is certainly one factor that may arguably affect the overall attitude of the electorate, if recent history and chatter on the blogs is any guide (and there is reason to believe, despite the refusal of the usual suspects to acknowledge the fact, that the jockeying on the blogs now will successfully divine and, in some measure, define the substantive agenda for the election to some extent) the Deeds-McDonnell contest will, IMHO, be focusing on two broad substantive themes more parochial in nature.

The first, obviously, is the economy and jobs, which will be debated in the specific contexts of transportation, education and energy policy insofar as those issues intersect with economic growth and development. In some ways, this issue benefits Deeds, because addressing the considerable problems Virginia faces and building a foundation for the future will require proactive government action, not exactly the long suit of the party of “no.” On the other hand, the simplistic GOP prescriptions for what ails us, the “drill baby drill” cheer, and the usual cries of tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, have appeal in difficult times where the complexity of our economic situation can seem overwhelming, despite the fact that they hold little virtue as actual policies. Still, such mindless ideological drivel is unlikely to gain much traction as long as the memory of George W. Bush is in voters' minds. Folks have had enough of simple sounding bromides that sound good, but leave disaster in their wake.

The second issue theme, less obvious and still to emerge, will be social issues, specifically whether Bob McDonnell's extreme Social Conservatism is out of step with current Virginian attitudes on such issues as choice, civil unions, stem cell research, teaching creationism in schools, etc. If the GOP thinks Deeds will have to answer for Tim Kaine's embrace of the Obama agenda, Bob McDonnell will ultimately have to answer, similarly, for Pat Robertson's social agenda. Indeed, this ties into the economic development issue, as well. Will the industries of the 21st century want to locate in a state dominated by social laws of the 19th century? Would a business dependent on creativity and technology be able to attract the educated, creative employees that will drive entrepreneurship and economic development for the next half century?

I suspect that the RPV is quite nervous about the emergence of this issue. And to think it was just an election cycle or two ago that these were wedge issues that favored Republicans. Ah, America the capitalistic beautiful.

The problem for the GOP is how to prevent political nature from taking its course?

The answer is misdirection to other issues. Those issues, of course, need to be real ones.

Outside Virginia, of course, a different narrative is developing. This narrative suggests that the Gubernatorial election will be a referendum on Barack Obama and Congressional Democratic rule. This meme is appealing to the national press because, after all, there is not a national audience for a discussion of the issues of interest to the Commonwealth’s citizens. As far as Virginia Republicans are concerned, Gov. Kaine, limping as he is to the end of his term, is the perfect vehicle to hitch its wagon to as it careens down the road. Furthermore, there is the possibility that this national meme will, through sheer force of national media saturation, overwhelm the local statewide issues, especially in NoVA where Federal issues tend to have greater traction for obvious reasons.

It is a risky course, however, and one unlikely to work. Virginians tend to be parochial in their concerns. Also, it is not quite clear exactly how closely Deeds has tied himself to Gov. Kaine, without which the GOP's efforts to do so won't work.

It is important to understand what Deeds means when he speaks of “continuing in the Warner-Kaine tradition.” It seems to me that what Sen. Deeds is really talking about here is not adherence to specific policies of his predecessors, although I am sure the three share similar attitudes on most issues, but rather a pragmatic, results-oriented approach to governing.

Again, this plays into the two main local themes that I think will drive the election, and allows Deeds to contrast his reality-based practicality with McDonnell’s inflexible ideologically driven approach.

Just as significantly, it renders any attempt to tie Deeds to policies supported by the national Democrats – Obama, Warner, Webb and Kaine – certain to fall flat. For a variety of tactical reasons unrelated to the substance of the argument, I don’t think Deeds should take the bait and respond to RPV demands that he opine on such Federal issues as card-check or ACES, just because Gov. Kaine holds positions on these issues as head of the DNC. For one thing, Deeds answers to the voters, not to the Republican Party. For another, the GOP has not yet established the relevancy of these issues to the election at hand.

But at some point, Deeds will need to declare his independence from the substance of Kaine, although not from the temperament and governing philosophy of Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Doing so will be easier than the GOP thinks it will, and once Deeds does that, the GOP may find its quiver is empty, save for the same old arguments that have lost them the last three election cycles.

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