by Paul Goldman
Many have forgotten that Virginia State Senator Steve Martin, with little campaign cash and no big time endorsements, came within about 400 votes of defeating heavily favored and hugely financed Eric Cantor for the GOP congressional nomination in the 7th District about a decade ago. It was a brilliant performance by a big underdog who was given no chance of avoiding a crushing defeat by the "experts."
Steve's brand of conservative politics has potentially great appeal to the type of Republican who is likely to be a delegate to the GOP nominating convention next year. He isn't the most charismatic candidate in the world, and will surely be way behind in the fundraising department compared to the others.
BUT Steve Martin, head to head with the others, is by far the most appealing conservative to Republican delegates based on the record, based on his deep religious beliefs, and based on his ability to appeal to the very voter that makes up the GOP base in a convention electorate.
To repeat: He is easily underestimated. PROVIDED, that is, that he shows me he is serious about running.
Martin has a unique advantage of the other announced candidates: He is a State Senator who heads the Education Committee, at the same time that the UVA fiasco has become a potentially defining moment for higher education in this state. At minimum, the UVA situation offers the top dog at the Senate Education Committee a unique opportunity, a unique forum, to demonstrate that he's ready for prime time.
Moreover, the huge GOP constituency of UVA alumni has the potential financial juice to give Steve what he lacks right now: a potential fundraising base who can not be happy with Governor McDonnell's "not my job" position on this fiasco (note that there is a big gap between being "hands off" in terms of not wanting government to micro-manage, and the perception that you refuse to provide the basic leadership that most would think the Governor should be providing in such a unique fiasco).
Moreover, nominees to the UVA Board have to go through Steve's Committee.
BOTTOM LINE: Senator Martin, as the underdog, has to be willing to be a little bold. Seizing a leadership position on higher education is all upside, no downside. The UVA fiasco is thus a gift to him, one where he doesn't have to grandstand one bit.
Again: Politics is a lot about showing people you care, that you "feel their pain," as Bill Clinton said. If Martin can do that for the UVA constituency, he will cement himself as the top dog in the LG nomination race among those in the GOP running right now.