Analysis: Why is Kaine running behind Obama?
Fellow Democrat Tim Kaine, meanwhile, has been stuck in a virtual dead heat in his U.S. Senate race with Republican George Allen dating back to mid-2011.
Begging the question, What gives?
Looking at recent polling from Public Policy Polling, it’s the base. Democrats are solidly behind Obama, with 95 percent of self-identified Democrats saying they plan to vote for the president, while Kaine gets a still-high-but-also-still-lower 89 percent, while Allen gets 8 percent of self-ID’d Democrats, doubling Romney’s 4 percent.
Obama is also running better than Kaine among African-American voters – with 91 percent supporting Obama and 82 percent supporting Kaine, with Romney at 7 percent and Allen at 11 percent.
Looking at other data, the splits between the candidates come down where one might expect. Kaine and Obama are stronger among women, younger voters and ethnic minorities; Allen and Romney score better among men, older voters and white voters; the four are equally strong among independents.
If these numbers are at all indicative of how Virginians are looking at the Senate race, we have to ask again …
Or more specifically, why is a small but statistically interesting number of Democrats and African-American voters peeling away from Kaine?
It’s not as if Allen is known as anything resembling a moderate Republican. The onetime Republican presidential aspirant did have challengers running from the right for the GOP Senate nomination, but he beat back the field of Tea Party and Tea Party Lite candidates with not-surprising ease in the June party primary by convincing primary voters that he was plenty conservative enough to merit another Senate run.
Running to the right to win a primary isn’t usually the kind of strategy that one employs to try to steal away a few votes from the other side.
The Kaine camp has been arguing for weeks now that it has been having to hold steady against a torrent of spending on negative ads by super PACs like Crossroads Majority PAC and the other AFP, Americans for Prosperity. But those same groups have been spending heavily on anti-Obama ads, and a key to the Allen campaign’s framing of the Senate race has been to paint Kaine as a surrogate toadie of Obama, to the point of referring to Kaine as “Chairman Kaine” in press releases to emphasize Kaine’s service at the behest of Obama as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
One would think that the sum effect of the wall-to-wall negative ads would be to reinforce Kaine and Obama as de facto running mates.
It could come down simply to a cliched comparison of the respective candidates’ records. A fair reading of the two could give Allen a slight edge. Allen served as governor of Virginia from 1994-1998 and in the U.S. Senate from 2001-2007, though he might not want to trumpet his time in the Senate too much, given the record of the Republican-majority Congress of that era, which turned the Clinton-era budget surplus into then-record deficits with the not-well-thought-out tax cuts for the wealthy that were supposed to spur economic activity and, frankly, didn’t work as advertised.
Kaine has a more recent history, all in state government – as lieutenant governor under Mark Warner from 2002-2006 and a term as governor from 2006-2010. His years in the governor’s mansion were bad timing to the nth degree – straddling the beginning and then the worst part of the recession that began in late 2007 and didn’t end before his term did. His campaign agenda, necessarily, took a backseat to simply keeping the lights on, for better or worse.
Whereas Allen can point to the rigorous Standards of Learning (vilified by more than a few as a precursor to the equally vilified No Child Left Behind monstrosity thrust upon us by George W. Bush) and criminal-justice reforms including parole reforms that still have significant bipartisan support, Kaine was able to make some modest gains toward pre-K education reforms trumpeted in his 2005 gubernatorial campaign and … not much else, fair or unfair to say it that way, but true.
To assume that voters actually spend time comparing and contrasting candidates’ records flies in the face of sociopolitical research that seems to indicate that voters are more likely to view a candidate’s record in light of preconceived notions of ideology.
So if it’s not a look at the candidates’ records, if it’s not the negative ads, if it’s not anything having to do with Allen, then, again …
It could be argued that it’s as simple as saying that Kaine just hasn’t been able to make the sale yet. The electorate seems primed and ready to elect him, as long as the long-term trends in the Obama-Romney race hold true. The same Democratic base that is waiting to give Barack Obama a second consecutive victory in Virginia is waiting for Tim Kaine to … well, do something, anything.
That has been the case for some time now, of course. The longer it takes Kaine to try to catch lightning in a bottle, the more likely it is that Allen will steal an election that probably should have been Kaine’s all along.