Virginia Gubernatorial Election

Mark J. Rozell
Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
Wednesday, November 9, 2005 11:00 AM

Mark J. Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University, was online Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 11 a.m. ET to examine the campaign tactics of Virginia's gubernatorial candidates leading up to Tuesday's election.

From The Post:

Campaign Journal

Virginia Elections Coverage

The transcript follows.

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Mark J. Rozell: Welcome, I am Happy to answer your questions on the Virginia campaign. I am a professor of public policy at George Mason University and have written about Virginia politics over the past two decades.

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Arlington, Va.: Would you say that Kaine's victory was more a reaction to Kilgore's nasty, mean-spirited campaign, or a reaction to the GOP's problems on the national arena? What lessons do you think Democrats and Republicans should take from these results as they look to 2006 and 2008?

Mark J. Rozell: Good questions. In part, the public rejected the tone of Kilgore's ad campaign. I think the crucial turning point was the death penalty ads. The editorial response to Kilgore's ads was uniformly critical. The polls started to show right after a shift to Kaine. And later polls said that most voters were disgusted with the negative tone of the campaign and largely blamed Kilgore and not Kaine for this situation. In fairness, I think both campaigns resorted to some ugly tactics, so that seems to be the condition of electoral politics these days.

I'm not sure this portends anything for 2006 necessarily. Indeed, there was a negative reaction to Bush's visit and the current situation of the Bush presidency, but things can change a lot in one year, so 2006 will be decided on a lot of other factors. I'll have more to say on this topic with other questions asking the same!

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Atlanta, Ga.: Given Leslie Byrne's stronger-than-expected 49 percent showing last night, do you see her as a potential or even likely candidate next year for US Senate or for Tom Davis's 11th Cong. District seat?

Mark J. Rozell: She only did that well because the top of the ticket won comfortably. The Democrats should have easily won the Lt. Gov. race given the strength of the Democratic turnout overall. But Leslie Byrne is just too left for this relatively red and southern state. I dod not see her at all competitive for the Senate and especially not for Tom Davis's solid seat.

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Springfield, Va.: What are the top three reasons why a Democrat carried Fairfax and the outer suburbs in 2005 as compared with the federal elections in 2004?

Mark J. Rozell: Not only did they carry Fairfax County, but did so by a lopsided margin. This used to be a swing county, but now seems to have turned heavily Democratic in the latest two elections. Top reasons: (1) popularity of the incumbent governor Mark Warner, a Democrat. Kaine ran effectively as the logical successor to a popular governor; (2) Bush's troubles and his 11th hour visit to Virginia really motivated Democrats in the northern Virginia area; (3) Kilgore did not have an effective issue them for the voters of the region. Contrast that to Jim Gilmore in 1997 (no car tax) and George Allen in 1993 (end the "lenient liberal parole system"). In each case there was a clear message, a single issue appeal that voters could understand and see how electing the Republican would make a positive difference in their lives.

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Washington, D.C.: I think this campaign was less about all of the attack ads and scare tactics and more about Virginians sending a message to the White House and Republicans. That they should stand notice, and present a clear direction for the economy and more importantly the war. Republicans can no longer count Virginia in the red column. Your thoughts?

Mark J. Rozell: I think it was about the negative ads and also, as you say, the current standing of the Bush presidency. If voters wanted to make a stand against Bush and the GOP, here was an opportunity - especially because Bush jumped into the race to campaign on Monday. But also, let's not underestimate the importance of an incumbent Democratic governor with stratospheric approval ratings and the Kaine campaign message of "stay the course". There was also a reason to vote for someone, not merely to send a negative message.

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Arlington, Va.: I know some national commentators are already dismissing the theory that this was a rejection of George Bush, but I heard at LEAST three voters myself say they went and voted for Kaine precisely because Bush came down and campaigned for Kilgore.

While clearly the entire election wasn't Bush's to win or lose, I think some people are too quick to underestimate his relationship with the voters of Virginia.

Mark J. Rozell: To be clear, this was not soley a referendum on Bush. But Bush was a factor. He campaigned in VA the day before the election. And all Republicans in the state were expressing concern that the current standing of the Bush presidency would harm the party.

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Arlington, Va.: Isn't it a little early in his career to think of Mark Warner as a national politician? How about letting him run against Senator George Allen in 2006 before we consider him as a national leader ?

Mark J. Rozell: Very risky for Warner. George Allen also is very popular and he has the substantial advantages of incumbency of course. Warner's stock is very high right now and it's not clear that he needs a Senate campaign to prove himself. What if he runs and loses to Allen? What will that mean for his national political aspirations?

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Annandale, Va.: What is the status of the race for Attorney General?

washingtonpost.com: McDonnell, Deeds in Virtual Tie (Post, Nov. 9)

Mark J. Rozell: Apparently a virtual tie at this point. I suspect a recount will be ordered.

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Arlington, Va.: While gratified by Keane's thin win, I think anyone who voted for Kilgore after viewing his death penalty advertisements is just plain sick. Do you agree that they helped cost him the election?

Mark J. Rozell: More than thin actually, it was a comfortable margin for Kaine.

I do believe that the Kilgore death penalty ads were the turning point of this election. Hugely backfired.

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Midland, Va.: I believe Kilgore lost because he tortured his message with an unseemly, over-the-top ad with images of Hitler in early October; and afterwards, any negative ad, whether factual or not, only reiterated the Kaine meme, that Kilgore was a meanie.

Additionally, it didn't help the timing of the ad, which was the day after Sabato asked both candidates whether they would agree to limit negative campaigning to 50 percent of air time.

I guess it's all about timing and overreach.

Also, Kaine's message of service, from early adulthood resonated with progressive or independent Christian voters.

You could almost call it the alignment of the stars, attributable to fate, "fortuna," or divine intervention.

No...?

Mark J. Rozell: Timing mattered, I agree. It was a misfortune for Kilgore that this election coincided with the low point of the Bush presidency. Consider this: in a poll, about 70% of Virginians said that the state is on the "right course" under the leadership of Mark Warner. But over 60% of the public nationally is saying that we're on the "wrong course" under the leadership of President Bush. It was a good year to run as a Democrat for governor in Virginia, no doubt.

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New York, N.Y.: I find it odd that in Virginia, a governor can only serve one term (consecutively). This just seems to set up a system of constant campaigning and not enough time for a new Governor to complete what he/she started. Do you find this system strange? I don't know many other states that do the same thing.

Mark J. Rozell: Virginia stands alone on this one actually. I really think that this constitutional limitation on gubernatorial succession should be changed. Consider that the public in 2005 was not satisfied with the choices for governor, but at the same time the incumbent governor has over 70% approval. Why not allow him the opportunity to run for reelection? Why not let the voters reward what they consider good performance in office? It's time to amend the state Constitution I think!

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City of Fairfax, Va.: Is Rep. Davis concerned about his seat? After all, in his former position in the House in which he raised money for Republican House candidates, he's responsible for some of the folks who were elected and are causing some of the discord in this country.

Mark J. Rozell: Nah, he's congressman for life if he wants to be. As solid an incumbent as you will ever find. I think he'd win his district if only Democrats were allowed to vote.

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Chicago, Ill.: For those of us not living in Virginia, what was the gist of these death penalty ads.

Mark J. Rozell: Thank you. Kilgore ran some hard-hitting ads suggesting that Kaine would not enforce the death penalty. One ad featured the father of a murder victim and at one point the name Hitler is invoked (that Kaine would not even support the death penalty for Hitler). Kaine had said all along that although a religious Catholic and personally opposed to the death penalty, he would enforce the current law of Virginia. Thus, the candidates' positions on the death penalty did not differ at all and voters learned that no matter who wins, the death penalty will remain the law in VA.

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Fairfax, Va.: Am I the only one not sold on Warner as a national candidate? While his formula might work in Virginia, I just don't see it working for the rest of the South. Your thoughts?

Mark J. Rozell: You're not alone for sure. He's from Connecticut, educated in Washington, DC. Not a southerner. But he won in a southern state and some are suggesting he might be the right kind of Democrat for 2008. Will he be an effective campaigner in the deep south states? I remain skeptical as well.

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Culpeper, Va.: Do you think there is an ideological shift happening in Virginia? Last year, Bush's win was not at large as previous Republican candidates, and this year, Kaine won in several areas that traditionally have gone to Republican candidates. Could spreading urbanization in Virginia be the dawn of a new political era?

Mark J. Rozell: Good question. I'm not prepared to go that far. Bush won VA by 9% last year. This is the most reliably Republican state in the country in presidential races. But for years, this state has been willing to vote GOP for president and then the following year elect a Democrat for governor. During the Reagan-Bush era, we had Democratic gubernatorial candidates sweeping VA. I consider VA a GOP-leaning, but still competitive two-party state. Urbanization helps the Dems for sure. But look at the huge growth of the so-called exurban communities here, and these are heavily Republican.

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Alexandria, Va.: All the political pundits are stating that this election is a new for democrats. If that is true, then Leslie Byrne and Creigh Deeds should have won their races easily. The GOP retains the House of Delegates and State Senate, as well at the LT. Gov. and most likely Atty General. In fact, the Lt. Gov. elect is considered the most conservative person in the State Senate. The point being is Virginia is humming along. The state economy is strong and people in general like one party controlling the executive and the other party controlling the legislative branch. Result is Status Quo.

Mark J. Rozell: I like your analysis! Warner made it possible for the Dems to win the governorship. But no coattails! Right now we seem to enjoy divided government in VA.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is there any place where I can view the infamous death penalty ads? I've read about them for weeks, but have never seen one.

washingtonpost.com: Kilgore TV Ads (www.jerrykilgore.com)

Mark J. Rozell: jerrykilgore.com

The campaign Web sites have the ads.

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Falls Church, Va.: In response to the above question about Tom Davis, I'm a die-hard Democrat (more liberal than Leslie Byrne, even) but I do and will continue to vote for Davis. He's got a lot of power and uses it effectively for Northern Virginia; I'm not willing to give that up!

Mark J. Rozell: Confirms my earlier answer, thank you!

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Manassas, Va.: Do you think that none of the Republicans on the ticket were from NoVA had any impact? Tom Davis seemed a little miffed about this and the fact that none of the Republicans running for Delegate in NoVA could gain anything from a Northern Virginian running for statewide office. I think the Republicans may have underestimated the weight that NoVA carries.

Mark J. Rozell: Amen. The GOP would have benefited from some northern VA presence on the ticket. Not that Leslie Byrne helped the Dems so much though.

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Re. Davis as "Congressman for Life": You don't think Devolites hinders Davis in any way?

Mark J. Rozell: I don't think many voters care. Maybe I talk to the wrong people, but I don't know anyone who brings it up much or says their relationship matters. Private is private, business is business.

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washingtonpost.com: "Race to Richmond" (Entry: Kelly's Letter)

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Woodbridge, Va.: As a regular grassroots volunteer, I can tell you that neither candidate did a decent job in NOVA. The phone bank effort on the GOP side was formulaic at best and the door to door effort was disorganized and halfhearted. I don't volunteer for Dems so I can't comment on their phone banks but I saw very few of their door to door people in my neighborhood. But what surprised me most this year was that neither campaign made much of an effort to put up signs and/or distribute literature at commuter lots.

Whatever they may have done with paid media, both campaigns waged the worst grassroots fight since Marshall Coleman's 1981 disaster. Where were the vaunted Tom Davis or Frank Wolf machines in all this? If Davis can't provide effective assistance to a GOP candidate in his own backyard, how will he ever succeed John Warner in the Senate?

Mark J. Rozell: I will defer to your knowledge on this one. I don't get quite that far inside the campaign operations to know if you are right. A lot of party folks were blowing smoke if you are right about this. I'd like for others online to see your assessment. it differs from all I've heard, but much of what I have heard may be very self-serving.

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Alexandria, Va.: How did Russell Potts impact the campaigns? Did he take more votes from Kaine or Kilgore?

Mark J. Rozell: He ended up a non-factor ultimately. Even if he took all from Kilgore, the end result would be the same. Because Potts is a Republican legislator, I think it is fair to suggest he may have siphoned a bit more from Kilgore than from Kaine. More so, Potts wouldn't say much at all about Kaine and he was constantly hitting Kilgore. Potts and Kaine participated in a gubernatorial debate at George Mason University and while Potts referred to Kilgore as a "coward" and slammed him at every opportunity, he had mostly praises for his debate opponent (Kaine) sharing the stage that day. Thus, Potts may have given some credibility to Democratic charges against Kilgore - a Republican beating on a fellow Republican.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you think the Kilgore camp would have been well served to try to soften Warner up a little early on in the race on issues like the tax increase and transportation?

By being so hands off Warner, it seems like they gave more credence to his endorsement of Kaine and enhanced his stature.

Mark J. Rozell: Kilgore actually did attack Warner at one point and the reaction to this tack was overwhelmingly negative. Warner's approval rating in some polls is near 80%. I think the last guys in VA to be that popular were named Jefferson, Madison, and Washington. Seriously, going after a politician who is seen as a unifying figure is not a good strategy.

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Alexandria, Va.: It seems Kilgore took the John Kerry approach and did more bashing of his opponent than stating his plans for Virginia.

Mark J. Rozell: Not much of a positive message there, I agree. Candidates have to give voters a reason to vote FOR someone. Kilgore mostly campaigned against Kaine. Can anyone tell me what was the major message or issue theme of the Kilgore campaign? That was the problem. Hard to answer that question.

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Fairfax, Va.: Since hindsight is 20/20, I was wondering if you thought that Chap Petersen as the Dem. Lt. Gov. candidate would have helped the ticket, maybe even helped it to take all three spots? His moderate positions, and pleasant personality would have been in stark contrast to Ms. Byrne. (I've never been a fan of hers.) Do these results deal a death knell for any future political office for her? (She asked hopefully.)

Mark J. Rozell: I think Chap would have won the general election, yes.

Dems should rethink having party primaries for these down-ticket offices. It was better when the party used more closed nominating processes - it meant more moderate and electable candidates.

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Annoying Phone Calls!: Can I vent about those annoying "vote for me" phone messages? On election day I had 6 (SIX) messages! 1 was from Kaine, 1 was for some race other than the gov., and 4 were for Kilgore! 4 messages from one guy?!-?!?

I wasn't going to vote for Kilgore anyway, but if I were, I'd change my mind after all those calls. Also, I voted at 7 a.m. and didn't hear those messages until 5pm.

Mark J. Rozell: You are not alone! I heard this complaint constantly. It was overkill.

Although maybe I should be flattered that I got personal calls from George Bush, Tom Davis, John Warner, George Allen multiple times, etc., etc.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Mark. We miss you at Catholic .I just find it impossible to believe that Hilary can win a national election. Are there any southern or midwestern democrats who can derail the Hilary for President express?

Mark J. Rozell: Say hello to all my good friends at CUA!

I'm actually among the few who think that she may not run.

I'm down to a minute, I have to be quick on these!

if she thinks she cannot win, she won't do it. Stay tuned.

I am reluctant to say who would be the other likely front-runner now. Long way to go!

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Fairfax, Va.: "Urbanization helps the Dems for sure. But look at the hige growth of the so-called exurban communities here, and these are heavily Republican."

You are wrong on this, Mark. The central fact of this campaign is that NOVA's exurbs did not go Republican, as conventional wisdom says they would. Loudon and Prince William are now Democratic counties. Virginia once was solidly Republican, but as of today, that paradigm is dead.

Mark J. Rozell: Trust me, Loudon and Prince William are NOT Democratic counties.

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San Jose, Calif.: What happened in the VA legislature, did either side pick up any seats?

Mark J. Rozell: Marginal shift - GOP lost one seat. They still command a strong majority in the House of Delegates.

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Mark J. Rozell: Thanks to all for your great questions. I have to go teach a seminar at GMU. I apologize for not getting to all the questions, there were far more than I could handle in one hour! All the best and keep following VA politics!

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