Chris Graham: Dems haven’t learned lessons from 2009

Democrat vs. Republican on whiteDemocrats were sure they had a winning hand heading into the 2009 governor’s race. Creigh Deeds is a Western Virginia moderate with a long record in the mainstream of Virginia politics. Bob McDonnell, his opponent that fall, has a similar long record in Virginia politics, but he had one other thing that could serve to weigh him down.

Remember the grad-school thesis that moderates and liberals assumed would guarantee them a landslide victory over the extremist McDonnell, who in the 20-plus-year-old paper slammed women, gays, lesbians and anybody with even a remotely open mind?

That didn’t work out so well. And the utter fail in the 2009 landslide losses for the Democratic ticket will make it hard for nonstarters of issues like the firestorm of controversy that has been stirred up over comments made by Republican Ken Cuccinelli last summer comparing the fight to end abortion to the work of abolitionists to end slavery to take root.

“Ken Cuccinelli’s comments comparing his efforts to make abortion illegal to the historic struggle against slavery in America have rightly offended many Virginians,” Democratic gubernatorial opponent Terry McAuliffe said in a statement on the controversy. “His comments reflect a career-long focus on an extreme ideological agenda that has nothing to do with Virginians’ top concern: the economy. Politicians who constantly create controversy on divisive social issues harm Virginia’s standing as one of the best states for business.”

McAuliffe would have been better served to sit this one out – in line with the old saw about the best thing one can do when one’s opponent is making a big campaign mistake is to stay out of the way.

The election goes best for McAuliffe if surrogates do all the heavy lifting on the social-issues front and he is able to keep his focus on, as he said in the statement quoted above, the economy and business.

Acknowledging the social-issue divide is reminiscent of another old saw about wrestling a pig in the mud – the classic lose-lose, because you end up muddy, and the pig likes it.

Cuccinelli would love it if the governor’s race was fought largely or entirely on his turf, because he is certain that a majority of Virginians, or at least off-year election Virginia voters, lean more conservative than liberal on social issues like gay rights and abortion.

A race that ends up being about social issues ends up masking Cuccinelli’s utter lack of common sense on economics and budget issues. And those areas are the strengths for McAuliffe, a classic Clinton-Warner Democrat who should be a shoo-in given his proximity to the political center vis-à-vis Cuccinelli’s extremist rightward bent.

The more McAuliffe can’t get out of the way whenever the latest wacky thing that Cuccinelli has to say hits the airwaves, the muddier he ends up getting, and the more Cuccinelli likes it.

That’s the mistake from 2009 that Democrats seem poised to repeat.

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