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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lessons from Virginia for GOP

The results in Virginia offer some lessons for GOP, and not only. Here are two Republican political strategists. I give you the views of both, though I would agree rather with Mr. Gillespie. After all, a victory in Virginia is just that, no more: as Ruth Marcus said (also in W. Post), as Virginia goes, so goes not much.

Ed Gillespie in Washington Post:

After losing Virginia's governorship for the first time in eight years, some Democrats are trying to console themselves that Virginia is at its core a red state. This ignores not only that they won back-to-back governorships but also that Democrats defeated a sitting senator in 2006, took control of the state Senate in 2007 and won an open Republican Senate seat and three House seats in 2008 while carrying Virginia's electoral college votes for the first time since 1964.

Some in the White House are trying to deflect blame for the defeat by saying that Sen. Creigh Deeds lost because he didn't embrace the president and his policies. This ignores how much the Obama administration's support for cap-and-trade, organized labor's agenda, government-run health care and rampant spending hurt the Democratic nominee with independent voters.

And some Republicans are concluding that the Virginia governor's race was a referendum on President Obama and that we can make major gains in next year's midterms simply by running against him. This ignores the fact that while Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell benefited from voter concerns over Congress and the White House, he ran on a positive, detailed policy agenda.

There are lessons in the Virginia governor's race for both parties, but Republicans nationally would do well to take a few pages from McDonnell's playbook. Here are five:

-- Convert conservative principles into practical policies -- and finish the sentence. All year, McDonnell laid out a steady stream of policy initiatives rooted in a commitment to lower taxes, less regulation and innovation. Too often, however, Republicans don't finish the sentence and remind voters outside our base why such conservative policies are better. McDonnell's campaign attracted crucial independent voters by focusing on the benefits of his policies: better elementary schools, more college degrees, less time stuck in traffic, more affordable gas and electricity, and most important, jobs, jobs, jobs.

By Tuesday, voters gave McDonnell a sizable lead when it came to handling every critical issue facing Virginians, and he can now claim a mandate for his agenda.

-- Run inclusive campaigns. When The Post reported on what is now the most famous graduate thesis in America and Democrats attacked McDonnell as anti-working-women, a broad grass-roots network of Women for McDonnell was in place to respond through e-mails, Facebook postings and conversations with friends and co-workers, making sure Virginians knew the Republican nominee's record of promoting women.

Instead of indulging in the anti-immigration rhetoric of past Republican campaigns, McDonnell appealed to the growing Hispanic and Asian American enclaves of Northern Virginia, where his message of entrepreneurship, educational opportunity and strong families resonated.

As a member of the House of Delegates, McDonnell worked with community leaders to narrow the gap in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. As attorney general, he rallied the commonwealth's law firms to donate to food banks, forging relationships in traditionally non-Republican areas. During the campaign he worked to earn the endorsement of lifelong Democrat Sheila Johnson and appealed to former Democratic governor Douglas Wilder, who ended up withholding support for Deeds.

McDonnell's performance among female and minority voters contributed to the biggest victory margin for any governor since Virginia became a two-party state.

-- Use language voters want from their elected leaders. When asked to comment on the president campaigning in Virginia for his opponent, McDonnell responded that the President of the United States is always welcome in the Commonwealth. In addition to citing the litany of issues on which they disagreed, he noted his agreement with the president's support for charter schools.

When a GOP candidate for the House of Delegates referred to the Obama administration as domestic terrorism at its worst and said that if Republicans fell short at the ballot box, we might have to resort to the bullet box, McDonnell made clear that her comments were not representative of Republicans he'd been talking with and that he would not campaign for or with her.

McDonnell was critical of his opponent's policies, but Deeds's attacks frequently were harshly personal. Voters expect the former but reject the latter.

-- Match the left's use of technology. The Obama campaign blazed electronic trails in 2008, and the McDonnell campaign sought to adapt to the new contours, beginning with an online announcement of his candidacy and a message to Text VA to GOBOB on banners and yard signs. Between social media networks, texting and e-mail, the campaign was regularly in direct contact with more than 200,000 voters -- impressive, especially given the low turnout on Election Day. In addition to the campaign's efforts, the Republican Party of Virginia did an excellent job of driving coverage and perceptions of Deeds through creative Web videos.

-- Back strong candidates. Elections are ultimately choices between two people vying for the same job. Bob McDonnell was, hands-down, the superior candidate. Virginia's next governor proved to be a principled, disciplined, energetic, idea-driven, articulate and personable candidate -- characteristics that will serve the commonwealth well over the next four years.

Alex Castellanos in NY Times:

Did Republicans win so many of the elections on Tuesday because of their conservative base or because they went beyond it? The answer to both questions is yes.

In some places in 2009 it was enough to not be a Democrat, just as it was sufficient for Barack Obama to be an alternative to President George W. Bush in 2008. In Greensboro, N.C., an unknown 70-year-old conservative who has never held elective office beat the incumbent mayor, the first such defeat there since 1973. Message to Republicans: When only 20 percent of Americans self-identify as Republicans, it is not our brand voters are buying. It’s the other guy’s brand they are rejecting.

Republicans won, fundamentally, because President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Washington have rebranded themselves as the party of economic irresponsibility. In New Jersey, where the Republican, Chris Christie, won the governorship, 57 percent of voters said the economy and taxes were the top issues. In Virginia 60 percent said the same — and Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor-elect, won economic voters by 15 percentage points. As my friend James Carville might now say, “It’s the economy, again, stupid.”

While the conservative base was energized yesterday — conservative turnout was up 7 percent in Virginia and 5 percent in New Jersey from 2008 — something else took Republican candidates across the finish line: They remembered that their principles were good for more than saying no. Republicans won’t find a more conservative candidate than Bob McDonnell if they draw lots from National Review’s subscription list. He didn’t abandon or moderate his principles to win the middle. Instead, he complemented them with an optimistic, populist vision of economic success.

Mr. McDonnell offered suburban voters, working women and independents a better way to increase jobs and expand the economy, from the bottom up. It was a stark contrast to what Americans are seeing in Washington, where elitist Democratic politicians, in bed with the Wall Street establishment, are taking Americans’ tax dollars away to invest in arrogant, top-down public-sector schemes. This helped Mr. McDonnell forge a powerful coalition involving not just independents but also young voters; he won the under-30 vote by 10 percent. Thanks for the opportunity, President Obama. On Tuesday, Nov. 4, in Virginia a New Republican Party was born. See you in 2010.

(Zoon Politikon)


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