What happened?

In the waning days and weeks of the primary campaign, it was clear to me that my candidate, Brian Moran, was in trouble. I was heartened by some information I received from a friend Monday afternoon who concluded:

For all the polls and hype, according to the historical trends, this ought to still be Brian’s race to lose.

Even so, I was prepared for a Creigh Deeds victory. I figured somewhere around 38%-39% for him – certainly not over 40% – with the remainder being split between Moran and Terry McAuliffe. I was astonished at the nearly 50% that Deeds got and poured over the results. Nearly everywhere I looked, including the precincts in Norfolk, Deeds had won.  Given that I had spent Election Day traveling around the city, I had no sense that Deeds could pull it off here. If precinct presence was any indication, it looked like Moran. I ran into Deeds signs (with the WashPo endorsement on them) at a few precincts and only one that had a Deeds poll worker. (I did not visit every precinct in the city.) Same was true for the McAuliffe campaign – some signs, only one precinct with a poll worker.  The results in Ward 5 were even more astonishing: Deeds won eight of the nine precincts in this ward, which is represented by McAuliffe supporter, Councilman Randy Wright.

So what happened? As a Moran supporter, I think it boiled down to two things: negativity and money.


I’m not a fan of negative campaigning – never have been, never will be. And anyone who has ever been the subject of such ultimately comes to the same conclusion. There is a way to point out differences between yourself and your opponent without resorting to that. I was unhappy with the negativity emanating from the campaign and expressed it over and over to no avail.

A successful candidate has to answer two questions: why not to vote for the other guy and why to vote for you. Negative campaigning only answers the first point, not the second.

While some took pleasure in defeating McAuliffe, they failed to realize that such negativity left the voters no choice but to go to Deeds. Saying no to McAuliffe without saying yes to Moran was a recipe for failure. Not only did it move the undecideds to Deeds, it moved some Moran supporters to him.  The trend lines from the polling were clear: Moran stayed pretty flat the whole time.  The goal here was to elect Moran, not simply to defeat McAuliffe.

To be honest, I hope that some of the folks who were involved in this “strategy” never have the opportunity to work in politics again.


With money, a campaign can get out its message.  Without it, a campaign is sunk. Moran had money but used it the wrong way. Conventional wisdom says that 70% of campaign funds should be used for voter contact.  Paying consultants is not voter contact, and, unfortunately, that’s where Moran’s money went. It’s been discussed for at least two years that Moran was spending way more money than he should have been. At the end of the day, there was no way to combat the negativity coming out of the campaign because there was no money to do so.

Yes, I got some mail pieces from Moran. (None from McAuliffe or Deeds, I might add.) But when the war is being waged on TV and you aren’t there, a win is impossible. You can’t go into a gun fight with a knife. McAuliffe was on TV for what seems like forever. (I think he made a mistake by talking so much in his own commercials – that gave Virginians the opportunity to know that he wasn’t from here.) Deeds’ commercials were extremely well done, presenting a picture of a confident, experienced candidate.  He made a strategic choice to reduce staff to be able to go on TV. He parlayed The Washington Post endorsement into more money (take a look at the $5,000 and over contributions he received since the last reporting period ), which allowed him to not only stay on TV, but to go up in the very expensive, voter-rich NoVA market.

By contrast, Moran only went on TV in selected markets, and then with only negative commercials. Not only was he never able to introduce himself to the voters, the only thing they saw barely had him in it.

It’s not just about raising money – Moran raised more money than Deeds, at least through the last reporting period – it’s about using it wisely. Deeds did that, Moran did not


As I said Tuesday evening, we have our ticket. I’m not sure that I agree with AIAW that it was a pragmatic decision on the part of voters; rather, I think it was a choice predicated upon the options as they were presented. Political junkies knew all the details of the race, but I doubt that the average voters were so lucky.  Bob Griendling has an excellent post on the lack of newspaper coverage, one with which I agree. And as I said in this Bearing Drift podcast, the blogs simply cannot close this gap.

The Democrats have nominated a moderate ticket that should match up quite nicely against the Republican one. The focus will be on the top of the ticket – Deeds and Bob McDonnell – and separating the two in the minds of voters will be our task. Do I wish the ticket were more liberal? You bet. But at least we have a ticket that I can support.

On to victory in November!

28 thoughts on “What happened?

  1. I, too, was SHOCKED, Deeds received 50% of the vote. Seriously, it’s so shocking I’m thinking of stepping up my involvement with Virginia Verified Voting.

    1. I wanted to add that I’m no longer tolerant of folks calling or coming to my door who are from outside the state, especially for state or local elections. If you can’t support the locals by hiring them, you do not get my support in the election.

      1. The point is, until just a few years ago, there were no surprises. Polls were correct, for the most part. People shouldn’t be THIS surprised, and I tell you, when I saw Deeds had won and at FIFTY percent, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Verification is needed in all elections, just so people know the outcome was what it should’ve been, because I surely do not feel good about this one.

  2. Very good analysis, Vivian. Your region, though, had some differnces from NoVa. For example, I received multiple mailings from McAuliffe and Deeds, and even some from Moran. We also had far less of Deeds on TV until late in the campaign and nothing from Moran in our very expensive media market. We actually didn’t get many McAuliffe ads until near the end of the campaign either. We did get lots of the Common Sense Virginia ads, though.

    FWIW, I also kept pleading with members of Moran’s campaign staff to be more positive. I once told Brian directly that he should start listening to certain people, rather than others (I won’t mention names here). Like you, I found it was to no avail.

    And I think you are spot on about the choices he made with spending his money. Too many high priced consultants, who gave him bad advice to boot, and not enough money saved to reach voters, especially in the final weeks. In fact, there were barely even any Moran signs up in Brian’s home district on the eve and day of the election.

    All in all, it was a very sad loss. But I do believe, at least, in NoVa a lot of otherwise liberal voters made a pragmatic decision in voting for Creigh. I based that on exit interviews I saw on TV, where voters were saying that they strongly considered who would run best in other areas of the commonwealth. Of course, it might have been different in your neck of the woods.

    Anyway, thanks for the great analysis.

    1. There is certainly a difference in the regions. We just don’t have the voters that NoVA has, and the candidates are wise to spend their money there. I got two mail pieces from Bowerbank and 1 from Signer but none from Jody.

      And I saw no evidence of exit polls down here.

  3. I agree with you regarding the bad advice Brian was getting regarding those consultants that he hired. Brian should have changee things if they were not working. Deeds made the hard choice; knew he had to make changes he layed off staff and was able to buy commercial time and thanks to the Washington Post endorsement. The money must have started to flow in because the next day the lawn signs were up all over NOVA with the endorsement listed on top of the signs.
    Brian was warned that this what Deeds supporters were just waiting to happen but the consultants were too busy fighting TMc and just let the door open for Deeds.
    The campaign organization was just not there – it seemed like there were too many cooks in the kitchen.
    If donors knew that 50% of their money was being paid out to staff I’m sure they would have rethought the donations.
    This was a hard/expensive lesson for the former Team Moran.
    Let the dust settle a little and we’ll see a bright future ahead for Brian – just not as Governor this November.

    1. Yes, I believe Brian’s future is bright. I just got off the phone with him and encouraged him about this.

      You raise a good point about too many cooks – my own experience was too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. (Sorry – I know that isn’t politically correct.)

  4. Vivian,

    Nice analysis, and thanks fo the kind comment.

    I think Deeds election was a pragmatic choice among voters, though I certainly think you’re on to something vis-a-vis Moran’s use of his ad $.

    Re the use of consultants, I haven’t look at how much he spent. But I know he had at least one consultant that seemed to be no more than a payoff to keep his endorsement. On the other hand, I’ve often thought that candidates need to think more streategically when designing a campaign, and not put all their $$ into mail and TV ads. They need to think about how they can — over the course of a campaign — deliver a message of leadership and thoughfulness on issues.

    I think doing so might also help generate media coverage, as someone who thinks about the issues, take stands and isn’t afraid to challenge the conventioanl wisdom would generate media interest. Even if that’s limited, holding forums and other events that are less structured can over time generate votes.

    Most of the time, they are afraid to, however, in the age of opponents video taping their every move.

    1. Look at the spending and I think you’ll be surprised. As for that campaign consultant – I suspect I know who you are referring to and I can tell you, that was not the case.

      I think you are on to something about campaign design: there has to be a campaign plan and while it shouldn’t be engraved in stone, it should serve as a guide for what the campaign wants to accomplish.

  5. Watching Moran and McAuliffe pummel each other and Deeds step back was very interesting. They did the dirty work for him while he saved his momentum to shine above the sparring children when the time was right. With limited resources and having been out funded by both adversaries, the fact that Deeds still won, says positive things about him.

    Paying too much money and attention to consultants isn’t just bad for Moran’s campaign, it is bad in everyday life. Public money is continually wasted on consultants. Don’t get me wrong, some consultants are worth what they bring to the table.

    If Criegh Deeds waged a great campaign with fewer resources, he must have something to offer in the office of governor. Decisions are made in office on budgets and strategic planning, right?

    Conservation, energy development, and alternatives sell even to conservatives. What doesn’t sell is all the hyper “Green” stuff that throws the baby out with the bath water. Sure, super green sells to a hardworking important group on the Democrat side, but trust me, Moran was “Green” to the point of being scary. Expecting such rapid “Greening” is like expecting to go through medical school in a week. Trying is going to mean extreme pain then disappointing results.

    Howard Dean and Terry McAuliffe…..running for a state or local office will be difficult after the DNC stint. I’m not sure Tim Kaine made a wise move. The position leaves its stain on you.

    All that said, I’m thankful that Terry McAuliffe was unable to buy the election. That’s a reason for hope.

    1. Britt,
      I have to say to paint Brian as the greenest candidate in the race, (recall the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Terry) and blame his race on what is at best a debatable gradation of green vis-a-vis three good candidates on environmental issues is ridiculous. The last thing we need is to have environmental issues blamed for a candidate’s loss when there isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support that. Brian didn’t even win Arlington. Environmental issues had nothing to do with his defeat.

  6. Don’t you love when folks uninvolved start pointing fingers at other people who were involved in the campaign. (Bob) I am sure you don’t know the whole story and never will, just make rash judgements on people. That is so typical of the press!

  7. I think you hit it Vivian. But I really don’t think Randy Wright’s endorsement of Moran made much difference. Moran got a lot of endorsements from local leaders. I think voters were just turned off by his attacks. His TV commercials and the jabs at the debate were directed towards McAuliffe. He could have done a lot better in the primary if he focused on the issues. This article explains a new well-read voter’s perspective on this primary : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/taylor-marsh/my-blue-collar-husband-an_b_212243.html.

    1. I question why Virginia has a “open” Primary? allowing non Democrats to help make the choice of who is going to be on the ballot.
      If the State Democrats had a convention like the Republicans did; the work horse of the party most likely would have won – Brian Moran.
      Too much money is spent during these Primaries – there should be a cap on donations; let alone the millions of dollars of tax payer money spent on opening the polls, again and again this year alone.
      Things happen for a reason – it was’nt meant to be; at least this go around.
      I see that this campaign brought about a good change in Brian Moran the person.

      1. We have open primaries so that, even if the state is dominated by one party (as it was for 100 years after “The War of Northern Aggression”), everyone has a say in their representatives.

        Look at the Arlington primary. Everyone knows that is the real election. The democratic candidate could be revealed to be having sex with underage boys (a la Barney Frank) and he will still be elected.

      2. If you want “closed” primaries, then the political parties can pay for the primaries and leave the taxpayers alone. For some odd reason, our primary system has worked wonderfully for Virginia.

        An additional reason for the “open” primaries, is that the bulk of voters in Virginia are INDEPENDENTS and not affiliated or members of any political party. Virginia counts, depending on whom you believe, 40-50% of voters as “non-party affiliate”. Do you really want to shut these people out? If you have a closed primary, you are going to have ideologues picking the candidates, and become, much as the Republican party of Virginia has become, full of self important, self consumed party people who are more concerned with party nonsense than what is good for Virginia. The recent public infighting with Jeff Frederick being but one example.

        Lets face with it, with few exceptions, only people who are intently interested in politics vote in primaries. Its been shown, time and again, that only a very small percentage of party crossover trouble makers bother to go to the polls. It they did, Hillary would have been the Presidential candidate instead of Obama. You will recall that Rush and Hannity was frothing at the mouth over sending republicans to vote for Hillary. Didn’t work then.

        The specious argument that party crossover votes upset election results in open primaries has been proven to be wrong many times!

        Your guy lost. Get over it and support the candidate that clearly Democrats and Independents chose!

        Deeds will smear McDonnell, for many reasons. Not the least of which is the nasty party infighting in the Republican party where McDonnell chose sides in throwing Jeff Frederick out, thus alienating the grassroots, poll workers, door-to-door, worker folks in the party.

        Making excuses, pointing fingers, throwing arguments into the mix is what the Republicans do, not the Democrats! Let them stew in the soup of their own making.

        1. I didn’t vote for Moran. I wouldn’t vote for anyone Randy Wright likes. Jeez! As for closed Primaries and that MOST Virginians are Independents, where do you get your figures. I don’t think that’s anywhere near the truth. I’ve yet to actually meet an Independent living in Virginia. I do not think it’s fair, though, when Republicans have no primary, that they are allowed to vote in the Democrat Primary. I stay out of Republican politics when we have no primary. It’s just not right to influence the party I’m not a member of.

        2. Oh please “pointing fingers, throwing arguments into the mix is Republicans do – not Democrats”! I don’t know how long you have been involved in politics but that is one of the most naive statements I ever heard.
          There are plenty of states that have closed Primaries that work – Democratic voters only for the Democratic Candidates and visa versa for the Republicans or Independents.
          Yes Brian lost because he was doing the dirty work that the winner couldn’t bring himself to do.
          At this point in tim Deeds is really going have to work to get my vote.

  8. Vivian,
    I think you analysis re the negativity of the Moran campaign is spot on. In a three-way race, negative attacks usually hurt the candidate they were directed at AND the candidate who levels them. I think that was the case in this race. I also think Brian’s campaign was extremely poorly run, starting with letting the Democratic Consultant Class rob him blind. It’s not the first Democratic campaign to run aground because of this.
    I too think Brian has a bright political future in Virginia.

    1. Someone referred to the negativity as a murder-suicide. I think that is an apt description.

      And yes, the list is long of campaigns robbed by the Consultant Class.

  9. I’m sure Northam’s endorsement of Deeds didn’t help Moran either, especially in the Hampton Roads/Eastern Shore territory

  10. The phone banking plagued my phone non-stop for the last three nights before the Primary. I started answering the phone “Deeds for Virgina, Scott Nolan speaking.” just to shorten the inevitable calls from Moran and T-Mac supporters… I also stopped taking calls from numbers I did not recognize.

    It is great to get a reminder call… but when you get dozens, something is very wrong with the system.

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