Virginia Governor's Race: More Lessons Learned
Yesterday, I offered my first impressions about why Republican Bob McDonnell is so handily beating Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia. Here are some additional lessons that Republicans and Democrats are learning.
1. Culture Warriorism Don't Work. At least not in this environment. Deeds's internal polling showed that the number one issue, by far, for voters across state but in Northern Virginia in particular, was the economy, jobs and infrastructure improvement. This is no different than in previous elections, but the salience of these issues were all the more acute. Virginia remains the best place to do business (says CNBC) and its unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation. No surprise that Bob McDonnell focused his ads, like a laser beam, on these issues without referring to the incumbent.
2. Don't Bite The Hands That Feed You. Deeds's campaign was upset at national Democrats who endorsed Terry McAuliffe during the primaries and resisted their offers of help early on. This help might have given Deeds some momentum in the early summer, when his campaign went virtually silent. True, there was some bad blood between Deeds's campaign and key statewide Democrats and strategists in Virginia because Deeds believed that these Dems played a hand in helping to recruit Terry McAuliffe. True. Deeds should have gotten over this.
3. Don't Go Silent When Your Opponent Is Being Friendly. Bob McDonnell's campaign dropped two great biographical spots in June, with virtually no alternative framing attempt from Creigh Deeds. This is the period where Deeds's numbers began to drop.
4. Let Your Opponent's Campaign Help YOU with Your Ads -- What this means is that if your opponent runs ads claiming that he's a fiscal conservative who plans to simultaneously cut spending and cut taxes AND invest in infrastructure, AND if jobs and infrastructure are the top issues, you call the opponent out on those claims. Bob McDonnell was vulnerable here. Instead, Deeds's campaign decided to exploit the admittedly exploitable anti-modernist thesis that McDonnell had written as a grad student, which produced some temporary gains but floundered and never set in.
5. Don't be the Angry Guy. Howard Dean suffered a little bit from this problem in Iowa in 2003. At a time when voters are in an explicitly anti-Washington, anti-politician mood, it's usually not wise to play the heavy. It's better to play the happy warrior. McDonnell did this perfectly. Deeds did it too late, waiting until a month ago before he really began trying to rebrand himself.
6. Don't Believe In Magic. Folks close to the Deeds campaign say that some Deeds advisers harbor a magical belief that Obama Democrats would turn out for Deeds...without giving them a reason to do so.
7. Don't Believe Everything Marc Ambinder writes. Yesterday, I wrote that the Deeds campaign didn't try hard enough to prevent Sheila Johnson, the BET co-founder, from endorsing McDonnell. I was wrong. They did. Johnson has never liked Deeds. And Deeds will probably do better in the African American community than people anticipate next week.