Why Nye lost

Since Saturday, September 4, I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts.  I’ve cleaned it up a bit and added a little bit of new information but the substance from two months ago remains. No, I’m not clairvoyant, but it was clear to me – from all that I had observed around the district – that Glenn Nye was going to lose.

This is the reason he lost.

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Glenn Nye, the freshman Congressman representing the 2nd district, was beaten pretty badly in Tuesday’s election. While the video above speaks specifically of his health care vote, it is representative of how Nye turned his back on Democrats in the district time and time again, despite pleadings from myself and others for him not to do so.

He ignored our advice and instead listened to that of his chief of staff, Angela Kouters, who has a history of steering candidates to the middle. From that link:

I figured that Kouters, who is young, ambitious, inexperienced and thoroughly under the influence of  Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom, was urging him to take so-called “moderate” positions in an attempt to pander to the DC perception of conservative CA-11 residents.

Unlike the writer of that post, I believe that Nye was completely under the influence of Kouters, whom I have never met. That alone should be telling: despite my efforts to reach out to the Nye office, I was rebuffed. As a small business owner in the 2nd, I received a single invitation to his numerous small business roundtables – and that was only after I requested it. I was never put on his press list. I’m told that I was specifically to be excluded.

Talk sometime to the revolving door of employees in Nye’s Congressional offices and you will quickly get the sense that Kouters ran off anyone who didn’t agree with her. I’ve heard the place described as a “hostile work environment.”

But that didn’t stop me from speaking with Nye at every opportunity about his unwillingness to engage the base. Every single time I ran into him, I reminded him that while Republicans may vote for him, it would be the Democrats who would work for him. I begged him to throw us a bone – and to stay away from rightist propaganda groups like the NFIB, a group I had belonged to years ago when they first started and before they coined the term “death tax.”

He didn’t listen.

Nye’s single-minded focus on veterans to the exclusion of everyone else in the district was a problem. Job fairs for veterans – but not for anyone else. Meetings with veterans – but not anyone else. No previous occupant of the seat had such a narrow focus when it came to constituents.

Interesting are the quotes in an article this morning about Nye’s loss:

“Nye just parachuted in, and now he’s parachuting out,” said former Del. Glenn Croshaw, who once served as Democratic chair for Virginia Beach.

“I don’t have the slightest idea who’s on his staff,” Croshaw added, noting that Nye was not someone who “worked the district” or got to know local Democrats.

Worse, said Geroe, Nye’s own votes in Congress alienated liberals.

“The Democratic base had absolutely no reason to vote for him,” [former VB chair Ken] Geroe said. “If you turn off your base, you’re done.”

But there is something beyond that with Nye, something I observed in him that day in December 2007 when he sat at my dining room table and told me he was going to run: he lacked core values.

Nye ran for office based on his opposition to the war in Iraq. Outside of that, his positions were developed from reading briefing books. But he had nothing to guide him, no core beliefs that helped him distinguish right from wrong. To be honest, there are a lot of elected representatives who do the same – and it shows. But that’s not what I want in my Congressman.  Thelma Drake and I are friends – we go back a long way – and she’s as quick as I am  to tell you that we don’t agree on much, if anything. But as my representative, I pretty much always knew how she was going to vote.  I haven’t known Scott Rigell long enough* to call him a friend but I know what his values are and how he’s going to vote (probably 99% of the time in opposition to the way I’d want him to).  I never knew how Nye was going to vote.

I never knew why Nye called himself a Democrat.

I’m from the school of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” so I’ve kept mostly silent during this election. That has not stopped people from accusing me of not being a “good Democrat.” While everyone is entitled to their opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts. The fact is it was Glenn Nye who was not a good Democrat. As he reminded us repeatedly, he voted against everything that Democrats hold dear.

He turned his back on us.


*In the interest of full disclosure, Scott Rigell contacted me late last fall. I sat with him for more than three hours as he discussed his background and what he wanted to accomplish. Because this was well before the handlers got hold of him, well before he won the nomination, I got an unvarnished look at the man. We talked about a lot of things – nothing was off the table. I walked away with a sense that he would do whatever was necessary to win the election. And once again, I have the cell number of my representative.

36 thoughts on “Why Nye lost

    1. The “Draft Phil Kellam” note on the back of the chair in the video is a hilarious exclamation point on the statement of just how far Glenn Nye had fallen with the base. I remember distinctly the criticisms from the more-liberal and more-vocal Democrats in that district about the combination of Phil Kellam’s centrist, post-partisan positioning (he, too, ran as an “independent voice”) as well as a general lack of strongly-articulated liberal positions on a lot of the central issues that year. It really underlines how much animosity there was in Glenn’s base that some of those same liberal Dems were ready either to forget or forgive their criticisms of Phil Kellam.

      Incidentally while I personally understand the criticisms of Phil Kellam as a candidate in 2006, I would never say that he as an individual lacked core values — but I entirely agree with that assessment of Glenn Nye. I could see myself voting for Phil Kellam again, but I thank God that I’m now registered elsewhere because I don’t believe I could have voted a second time for Glenn Nye any more than he apparently could believe that he’d ever vote for me.

      1. Nye ran in 2008 as an experienced Foreign Service field hand who could hit the ground running on defense and international issues. As such, in a year where Iraq and Afghanistan were issues people talked about, he seemed to be a pretty good choice. He wasn’t nearly as unfocused as Kellam two years earlier.

        Part of the problem was that he never really acted on that once he was elected; it was all veterans constituency stuff, all the time.

        1. I don’t want to get too inside-baseball here, but rumors that Glenn Nye ran a focused and efficient campaign in 2008 are greatly exaggerated. Just as we frequently gather in the first half of November to highlight a candidate or campaign’s failings after a loss, so do we also quickly forget the strategic sins of the preceding nine months when he wins. Glenn benefited from that initially after 2008, but I have to tell you, this notion that he had any idea what the calculus was behind his 2008 win just isn’t true.

  1. Interesting stuff here. I spoke just yesterday to a local magazine writer who commented on the fact that the Nye campaign never returned his phone calls, while Rigell usually got back to him right away, and he often got through directly to Golden. That is telling.

    Your guy on the video was on point for a while, but got really weak toward the end. His assertion that “we have better choices waiting in the wings” is belied by that fact that no Democrat in Virginia Beach is stepping up yet for next year’s General Assembly elections. The fact is that finding viable candidates has been the VB Democrats’ biggest problem since their 1990s meltdown (presided over, in part, by Ken Geroe). Then, at the end, he flashed that “Draft Phil Kellam” message. Phil Kellam is one of the good guys, but his 2006 congressional campaign was at least as weak as Nye’s this year. Kellam had particular problems taking coherent positions on national issues, which pretty much sank him.

    And while we’re beating up on Nye, it might be nice to take a second to note that Rigell won as much as Nye lost. We tend to forget or ignore that Rigell has been running campaign ads for over a decade under the guise of selling Fords. His dealership ads have been pretty effective positive ads, with him talking directly to the camera, spouting homilies about service while waving a big American flag. He stuck to the same format during his campaigning as well, in the positive ads at least. As grating as some of that was (my dad landed on Iwo Jima, so I have superior DNA — c’mon now), it was effective, and done very well.

    1. Bobby Mathieson is said to be waiting to see how the district looks, or even which district he ends up in. Personally I think waiting is a mistake, especially for first time candidates. The redistricting session won’t take place until mid-April after the veto session, and if you wait until then to start your campaign, you’ve already lost.

      1. Yes, I’ve heard Bobby may run. But the problem is that if he announces, he could be drawn out of the district. And I agree – waiting isn’t good, either. It’s a heck of a Catch-22, that’s for sure.

  2. Way to kick a man when he is down, Viv!

    I would rather that you encourage Democrats to thank Mr. Nye for his service in office and for running for a second term.

    Who else stepped forward who would have done as well in these circumstances?

    When you look at Mr. Nye’s campaign, and the current political climate due to the economic depression, anyone with a D next to their name surely had to expect a very tough time.

    The voters should be blaming the Republicans who got us into this economic quagmire, but alas, they have very short memories.

    Now is the time to rally around candidates and those still in office who have shown that they have BROAD appeal, and not merely a penchant for pandering to the “base.”

    In Virginia, elections are won by getting the massive numbers of crossover voters on your side. Mr. Nye had the right idea, but his efforts were just overshadowed by the bad economy.

    The Democratic Party, both at the national and state level, could strengthen the appeal of our Democratic candidates, by restoring the Democratic Party as the chief advocate for the average working man, and defender of civil liberties.

    I look forward to seeing a new Party Chairman. Senator John Miller would be a great choice for Chairman, though I am not sure that he is interested in that job right now.

    It would be great to see Tom Periello run for Governor and John Miller run for Lt. Governor next time.

    1. You might have a point if I had said anything about this during the campaign, but I didn’t. It’s over now – and we Democrats have to be honest about how and why this loss occurred.

      And if you want to encourage Dems to thank Nye, perhaps you should get a blog and do it.

    2. I like John Miller too, but if he has any kind of competition next year (as I expect he will), being DPVA chair will be a distraction. The state chair shouldn’t be an active candidate for office.

    3. The voters should be blaming the Republicans who got us into this economic quagmire, but alas, they have very short memories.

      Not as short as yours, apparently. Did you forget that the economy went south only after the Democrats took control of Congress? Did you forget that the deficit was going DOWN after the post-9/11 bump? Did you forget that the deficit was down to 1.14% of GDP until Democrats started writing the budget, and that in only two years they had gotten it to over 9% of GDP?

      Did you also forget that, on average, GDP growth in the 12 years the Republicans had the House was higher than in the preceding 40 years of Democrat governance?

      1. Your memory appears to be even shorter. Remember the bank bailout summit that Bush held right after the 2008 conventions? The one where he invited both nominees and got strong support from Obama, while McCain grandstanded? Remember how Rob Portman, the GOP senator-elect from Ohio, was the Bus economic advisor who came up with the now-reviled TARP (a program that worked out fine once Obama put the screws on bank executives personally)?

  3. Two things that should also be noted:
    1) As a freshman, experience and knowledge of the district is important. Rep. Nye should have hired someone like Owen Pickett’s former Chief of Staff- Jeanne Evans. There are very few people out there who truely know the district like Ms. Evans. He could have hit the ground running with a seasoned professional who has earned the respect of many within the district.
    2)Trying to emulate Mark Warner only works for Mark Warner.
    Warner was a former DPVA chair and developed long standing relationships with the “base”.

  4. I dont think simply moving to the left would have helped Nye. THe health care bill was not popular, and voting for it would not have pulled him across the finish line. However, what Vivian says about no invitations to the roundtables, etc., is very important. A congressman needs to keep in touch with his constituents (esp. a new one whom the constituents do not know as well) and build trust with them. View’s point about Pickett’s chief of staff is on target; if not Jeanne then someone who is involved in the area. J. Tyler-I like John Miller a lot as well and look forward to hopefully working alongside you to re-elect him next year. Hopefully he’ll get a friendlier district, and my neighborhood in downtown hampton will be in it.
    Lastly I will thank Nye for his service.

    Full Disclosure-I am a centrist Virginian, who usually votes democratic but have voted r on occasion (usually at the presidential level)

  5. I focused more on the timing of Nye’s healthcare vote.. At the very end, once it was clear that the Dems had enough votes to pass it and his nay vote would not affect the passage of the Obama’s signature piece of legislation. To me that demonstrated the lack of leadership, he was barely visible here for 2 years. He had raised a lot of money by the summer. But it wasnt until June or July he had a functioning campaign website. He was rather disconnected to voters in the district. I think thats why you see Periello actually came a lot closer than Nye in a more conservative district.

    1. Periello’s closer margin in a more-conservative district is a salient point that I think all politicians — those who won and those who lost, those on the right and those on the left — should learn from. Tom did two very important things. First: he made it unequivocally clear where he stood on the issue and why he stood there. Second: he made explaining that to local constituents who disagreed with him a full-time component of his job. Whereas Glenn’s track was to try and come down on the side of the issue that fewer people disagreed with and then ignore everyone who wished he’d voted the other way.

      Honestly, in a political environment hostile enough to Democrats that even a long-term incumbent like Rick Boucher can be taken down, I’m not really sure that there’s anything that either Glenn or Periello could have done to win re-election as far as their voting records go. I don’t think Periello would have survived even if he’d voted against HCR, and I don’t think Glenn would have survived if he voted for it. But Tom’s way of doing things — voting his conscience and then vigorously explaining why his values lead him to vote the way he did — sure got him a heck of a lot closer than Glenn’s.

      1. I believe Cook rates both VA-02 and VA-05 as R+5 districts. Periello lost by 3.68%, Nye lost by 10.73%. If environment caused Boucher’s loss – and I believe it did – then you can use his loss a a barometer of the effect. Boucher lost by 4.82%.

        So without the effect of the political environment, Nye still loses but Periello wins.

        1. That’s a really interesting way to look at the numbers, and I’m inclined to agree with the ultimate conclusion. I would disagree with the notion apparently supplied by Cook that VA-02 and VA-05 are on parity as far as their conservative leanings go; in every statewide election but one since 2005, the Democrat at the top of the ticket has performed better in VA-02. Kaine did only slightly better, but for both Webb and Obama it was a matter of a few percentage points. Creigh Deeds in 2009 is the exception to the trend, and that makes sense since his opponent, Gov. Bob McDonnell, was a long-serving state legislator from Virginia Beach and had deep ties in the largest city in VA-02. But even working against that local handicap, Creigh Deeds only ran half a percentage point in the second district behind his numbers in the fifth.

          So I think that while each district was drawn after the 2000 census to be roughly as conservative as the other, demographically 2CD has moderated over time in ways that VA-05 hasn’t. But even if was just as conservative today as it was when it was first drawn, Nye would have lost a heads up race by somewhere around 5%. Losing by twice that much? That’s a sign you did something very, very wrong.

  6. I can believe that you were specifically excluded from the business round table.. I just cant understand why they would do that..

  7. We SHOULD be kicking Glenn Nye. Kicking him HARD. Why? Because the mistakes he made were completely avoidable. That he made these mistakes while following the advice of no one he wasted the resources of his office and the time of his constituents. We should carefully read what Viv wrote so the mistakes are not repeated again. Life is too short to suffer fools and waste time. L

  8. I find the contrast between Glenn Nye and another freshman Virginia congressman who was just defeated, Tom Perriello, to be dramatic. I think Mr. Perriello can probably sleep very well at night. It’s a shame that Mr. Nye didn’t understand that, if his constituents want a Republican congressman, they will elect a real Republican over a Democrat who votes like one. And they did.

  9. Vivian, I for one sent several letters to Mr. Nye’s office telling him these things in no uncertain terms.

    All he ever did was send back letters that rambled on and touted other votes he took that he was proud of but never once addressing anything I ever asked him to.

    He bent over backwards for anyone in the armed forces, and while it is clear to recognize that the military are an important presence in the area, they are not the only people that live and work here.

    Nye’s terrible run as my rep makes me want to run as a real Democrat, but I just don’t really know how to get started. But I do know that I stand for lots of things, and I think that the 2nd District voters would at least consider them.

    1. Start by talking to the local party committees. Candidate recruitment is one of their core functions. They may not do the best job of it, in fact, some people may actively discourage you; but they are a place to go to find information on the technical parts of the process. Either they can give that to you or steer you to someone who can.

      The important thing is to show your interest, share your ideas, and get to know as many people as possible who can help. It’s the same thing you’ll be doing with voters later–persuading people to support you.

      1. Yeah, I had one activist tell me to get in touch with Susan Mariner…haven’t had a chance yet.

        I’m a real neophyte at this whole “starting and/or running a campaign thing”.

        No name recognition either, but hey, I didn’t know who Nye was till he started running ads, so….

        1. All of the committees in the 2nd (VB, Norfolk, Accomack, Northampton, Hampton) have regular scheduled meetings. VB has regular Saturday breakfasts (used to be weekly, not sure now) and Susan will be there. Norfolk has monthly Saturday breakfasts–this Saturday in fact, 8:30AM at the Piccadilly on Military Highway, next to Military Circle Mall, 2 blocks N of 264. You can meet the Norfolk chair, Diane Kaufman; you can even meet me, not that that means much. You may have to sit through a thank you speech from Glenn Nye, but that’s not a bad thing.

        2. Drew … Randy is on point. Become as involved as you can in your local party committees. Name recognition, or lack thereof, can be overcome by a lot of hard work and simply going out and knocking on every single door in your district several times over. I had virtually no name recognition when I announced my candidacy last year, but I am convinced that walking my district six times during the campaign was instrumental in my victory last year. May I also suggest you sign up for the Sorenson Candidate Training Program. This program will give you a keen insight into the campaign process (at the very least you will be able to gauge whether or not your staff is doing what they need to do to run a successful campaign). I highly recommend this program to every person who who desires to run for public office.

          Lastly, please know my door is always open Drew, and any others who would like to jump into the political arena … I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.

          1. Thank you for your comments. Would love to talk to you more about it.

            Can you direct me to the best pipeline by which I can communicate with you?


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