Strategery: Deeds 2009 vs. Past Virginia Campaigns

Monday, August 3, 2009

I've seen a few people claim that (what they call) "criticism" of the Deeds campaign - as expressed by NLS, Green Miles, Elaine in Roanoke, etc. - is somehow about "cannablizing our Dem ticket," "complaining and making the guy try and pass some sort of purity test," "NoVA bloggers think[ing] they are the be all and end all of Virginia." Stuff like that. Well...sorry, but I strongly (albeit respectfully) disagree. That's not at all what this is about. Instead, here's the way I see it.

1. What this discussion's really about is cold, calculating "strategery": how to elect Creigh Deeds, defeat Bob McDonnell (and Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli), pick up a few seats in the House of Delegates, etc. It's also about whether or not the current Deeds campaign approach and execution are working the way they'll need to if we're going to have a shot at accomplishing those goals in November.

2. In 2006, an extremely similar debate took place within the Webb campaign between those who wanted Webb 24/7 in SWVA and those who wanted him in the "urban crescent" of Hampton Roads-Richmond-NOVA. I actually argued for a "hybrid" approach, but in the end the "urban crescent" faction carried the day. What that meant, in practice, wasn't that Webb totally ignored SWVA, Southside and Shenandoah, but that the campaign focused most of its energy, candidate time and resources (money, etc.) on the "urban crescent." In the end, it worked, with Webb racking up a huge margin (around 190,000 votes) coming from the following 10 localities: Fairfax County (+65,000 votes), Arlington County (+34,000 votes), Richmond City (+24,000 votes), Alexandria City (+19,000 votes), Norfolk City (+15,000 votes), Hampton City (+10,000 votes), Portsmouth City (+8,000 votes), Charlottesville City (+7,000 votes), Newport News City (+4,000 votes), Falls Church City (+2,000 votes). In addition, Webb squeaked by in Loudoun and Prince William Counties and won Fredericksburg City by 1,000 votes. Meanwhile, Webb - despite deep family roots going back generations in SWVA - lost the 9th CD by 21,000 votes. Webb also lost the 6th CD by 39,000 votes, the 7th CD by 38,000 votes, the 1st CD by 24,000 votes, the 4th CD by 20,000 votes, the 5th CD by 19,000 votes, the 2nd CD by 6,000 votes. In the end, Webb's "urban crescent" advantage - huge margins in NOVA, Richmond and Hampton Roads - was juuust enough to see him squeak by George Allen into the U.S. Senate.

3. In 2005, Tim Kaine, from the Richmond area (former mayor of Richmond City) but with strong ties to SWVA through his father-in-law, Linwood Holton, mainly focused on the "urban crescent" -- and again it worked. In the end, Kaine defeated Jerry Kilgore by about 114,000 votes. The margin came from Fairfax County (+60,000 votes), Arlington County (+29,000 votes), Richmond City (+27,000 votes), Alexandria City (+16,000 votes), Norfolk City (+15,000 votes), Hampton City (+10,000 votes), Portsmouth City (+8,000 votes), Henrico County (+8,000 votes), Newport News City (+7,000 votes), Charlottesville City (+6,000 votes), Roanoke City (+6,000 votes), and Loudoun County (+4,000 votes). Note that Fairfax County, Arlington County and Richmond City combined add up to more than Kaine's total margin of victory. What Kaine's victory margins in Hampton Roads, Charlottesville and Roanoke City did was to offset Kaine's losses in the 9th (where Kilgore won by 21,000 votes), the 6th (Kilgore by 17,000 votes), the 7th (Kilgore by 13,000 votes) and the 1st (Kilgore by 8,000 votes).

4. What Mark Warner did in 2001, focusing on SWVA with a cultural appeal centered on bluegrass music and NASCAR, was smart because Warner hailed from Alexandria, having grown up in Connecticut and attended college in DC. Thus, the need for Warner to get out of NOVA and work hard on his appeal to a completely different part of the Commonwealth. It worked, with Warner beating Mark Earley by nearly 100,000 votes. However, Warner's winning coalition was quite different than Webb's and Kaine's. Thus, Warner won Fairfax County - but by "only" 26,000 votes and Arlington County - but by "only" 19,000 votes. Combined, Warner's margin of victory in Fairfax and Arlington Counties was 45,000 votes, compared to 99,000 votes for Jim Webb in those two localities and 89,000 votes for Tim Kaine. Instead, what Warner did was to actually carry the 9th CD, to hold his own in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th CD's; to win huge in the 3rd CD and big in the 4th CD; and to get whomped in only two CDs, the 7th and the 10th. Perhaps Mark Warner is sui generis in Virginia politics, and perhaps it had to do with money (Warner outspent Earley more than 2:1 in the general election), but it's nonetheless impressive for a guy from Alexandria City.

5. This year, we've got a candidate from western/rural Virginia, which means he should have a natural competitive advantage in that part of Virginia. If not, he's probably toast anyway. If so, then what Deeds has got to do is focus his efforts heavily on the "urban crescent" strategy that worked for Jim Webb, Tim Kaine, and to an extent Mark Warner (we haven't even discussed Barack Obama, who won huge in the "urban crescent"). In short, that means a Deeds campaign focus on: a) African Americans; b) NOVA; and c) Hampton Roads (not necessarily in that order). If Deeds can hold his own in rural Virginia and rack up large margins in the "urban crescent," he wins big. What happened in 2005, when Deeds ran against Bob McDonnell for Attorney General, is that Deeds lost the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th CDs. Deeds won the 3rd, 8th, and 11th CDs, but by far smaller margins that Tim Kaine did. For instance, Kaine won the 3rd CD by 60,000 votes, while Deeds won it by just 49,000 votes. Kaine won the 8th CD by 73,000 votes, while Deeds won it by just 64,000 votes. Kaine won the 10th CD by 7,900 votes, while Deeds lost it by 4,000 votes. And Kaine won the 11th CD by 25,000 votes, while Deeds won it by just 11,000 votes. Combined, Deeds underperformed Kaine in the 3rd, 8th, 10th and 11th CDs by 46,000 votes and lost the election by 323 votes to Bob McDonnell.

Which is why, this time around, people like Miles Grant, Elaine in Roanoke, Ben Tribbett and I believe that Deeds really REALLY needs to focus on that "urban crescent" (Hampton Roads-Richmond-NOVA) strategy. [note: Miles might express this even more strongly, but I'll leave that to him :)] We also believe that Deeds needs to do something to fire up the people who live in the "urban crescent" - African Americans, Hispanics, the white progressive base, etc. I don't believe that any of us have a problem with Creigh Deeds campaigning in rural parts of Virginia, just as all the other candidates mentioned above did. However, unlike the possibly sui generis case of Mark Warner, who hailed from Alexandria, we definitely feel that Deeds will need big margins in the "urban crescent," where he underperformed Tim Kaine 4 years ago, if we are all to see a different result this November. And that's what we all want: a different result this fall, one that does not end up with the horrible words come January 2010, "I, Bob McDonnell, do solemnly swear..."