Wakeup call to Virginia Democrats
You want the good news about the 2009 state races, or the bad news? For a change of pace, let’s start with the good news. Creigh Deeds raised about twice as much money in June as Bob McDonnell. Don’t get too happy, though, because I undersold the bad news, which is really along the lines of bad, bad, bad news. Here it is, straight, no chaser – gobs of money coming in or what, our side is so disorganized right now that I can’t be too optimistic about November knowing what I know.
It all started coming to a head for me this past weekend, which had me sitting out at the Summer Extravaganza in Waynesboro both days carrying the flag for the Democratic Party cause. The first thing I noticed was my utter inability to sign up volunteers to work the booth with me either day. Last year the volunteers willing to work for Barack Obama and Mark Warner were like manna falling from heaven. I couldn’t get people signed up quick enough, truly. We were able to run our party headquarters seven days a week beginning the week of Labor Day, and sent people out knocking on doors weeknights and weekends, no problem at all.
This weekend, it was me and the Greg Marrow campaign in the form of 25th House District candidate Greg Marrow, his wife, Christie, and campaign manager Dan Chavez. And that was it. And it was great, incidentally, having the Marrow team on hand, because without them, I’d have had nothing in the store to sell, figuratively speaking. I had contacted each of the three statewide campaigns – Deeds for governor, Jody Wagner for lieutenant governor and Steve Shannon for attorney general – in advance of Extravaganza to try to rustle up yard signs and brochures and bumper stickers and whatever else they might be able to give me. And trust me, there was plenty of demand for Democratic stuff out there at Extravaganza. In large part because of the hard work that we put in last fall in ringing up 45 percent of the city vote for Obama (a 15 percent improvement over John Kerry’s performance here in 2004) and 58 percent for Mark Warner (a 17 percent improvement for Warner in Waynesboro from his 2001 run for governor).
I had four yard signs and a handful of brochures from the Wagner campaign to display at Extravaganza. That’s it.
Naturally, I’m thinking, Well, maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s the fact, at least with the Deeds folks, that I had gone out and endorsed Terry McAuliffe for governor back in the spring, and I’m not high on their priority list right now. I’d get that and not be offended at all. Politics is politics, you know? But I’ve been trading e-mails with a friend in Staunton involved in the Democratic committee over there, and he tells me that they couldn’t get anything from the statewide campaigns for their booth at the Fourth of July festival in Staunton, either. Which tells me that there’s something deeper to this.
Here’s where I get to me not being optimistic about November, and to get you there I need to take you on another flashback to last year. I was elected chair of the Waynesboro Democratic Committee in May, on a Thursday night, and the next morning the first person to call and congratulate me was someone from the Obama campaign. The next week the Obama folks had 30 people at my house organizing Waynesboro into precinct teams. I told anybody who would listen that no matter what the polls said, we were going to win in November, because we were organized. I then got updates from a Republican friend about the disarray on their side that only strengthened my thoughts in that respect. The GOP faithful here couldn’t get their hands on yard signs, brochures, bumper stickers, didn’t get their ground game going until way, way too late, et cetera.
So what do we have going in Virginia in ’09? The Republicans are mega-organized. We were two booths down from the Republican tent at Extravaganza over the weekend. They had yard signs out the yin-yang, bumper stickers, buttons, brochures, balloons, you name it. We had a trickle of stuff from Jody Wagner and then the fortune to have invited Greg Marrow to campaign with us, or else we’d have looked like your average run-of-the-mill unorganized third or fourth party.
I’m happy as a clam that Creigh Deeds raised $3.4 million in June, nearly doubling Bob McDonnell’s $1.8 million fundraising month. Great. I like the fact that McDonnell is spending heavily on TV ads in July to boost his favorability at a time when the vast majority of Virginians are trying their best to think about anything other than politics. It’s good for our side that he’s not raising money and spending it like he is.
Money isn’t going to win this thing for us in November. We have a tried-and-true formula for winning elections in Virginia by now. We have a natural advantage by being right on the issues of the day, and sure, it helps that we’ve proven to be more adept at fundraising than our Republican counterparts in recent years.
What I’m sensing is that we might have gotten fat and happy about where we are having won the last two governor’s races and the last two U.S. Senate races and then last year also winning the presidential race in Virginia for the first time in 44 years. I’m a sports guy, as some of you may know, running a summer college baseball team in my free time, and one thing baseball teaches you night after night after night is – what happened last night doesn’t matter. In politics, what happened last year doesn’t do a thing for us this year. If we’re going to win in November, what we do between now and November is going to serve as the foundation for that win.
My read of things is that we’re nowhere near being where we need to be. And no, it’s not about yard signs and bumper stickers and the rest. I’m a Democratic Party chair and the editor of a progressive-leaning print magazine and news website, and I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet two-thirds of our state ticket, or have anyone representing their campaigns ask me about coordinated campaign efforts or try to set up an interview with their candidate to reach our base of 10,000-plus progressive Valley readers.
What in the hell is going on? That’s what I want to know. And I ask realizing that what’s at stake here isn’t just winning an election. The stakes are only the future of this Commonwealth. We continue moving Virginia forward, or we let the Gilmore-George W. Bush-Grover Norquist-Pat Robertson clan take over and set us back 20 years.
Somebody suggested to me today that it’s time for a wakeup call on our side of the ledger. Ring, ring …
- Column by Chris Graham