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!