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Virginia GOP Primary:
UVA Political Analyst Larry Sabato

Free Media
Related Links
Full Coverage: Virginia Primary Special Report
Ask Gov. Bush: Video | Transcript

Bush Laments 'Missed Opportunity' (Post, Feb. 28)
McCain Visits N.Va., Trying to Halt Bush 'Machine' (Post, Feb. 28)
Candidates Pursuing Conservatives in Va. (Post, Feb. 27)
McCain Flies to Va. Airwaves (Post, Feb. 27)
Heat is On for Va. Primary (Post, Feb. 26)
Bush Appeals for High-Tech Support (Post, Feb. 26)

Campaign 2000
Live: "Free Media"
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Wednesday, March 1, 2000; 3 p.m. EST

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain are locked in a battle for both delegates and momentum as they head toward the multiple state contests on March 7. How will their campaigns in Virginia affect their strategies in later primaries? How are they faring with both core Republicans and crossover voters?

Political analyst Larry J. Sabato is professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. He is director of UVA's department for governmental studies and has written several books including "Dirty Little Secrets: The Resurgence of Corruption in American Politics" (1996) (with Glenn Simpson), "Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics" (1993) and "Peep Show: Media and Politics in an Age of Scandal" (2000).

Sabato joined "Free Media" on Wednesday, March 1 to talk about the results of the Virginia GOP contest and how Bush and McCain fared in the Old Dominion. The transcript follows:

Free Media: Good afternoon, Prof. Sabato, and welcome. So Virginia handed George W. Bush a solid win. What do you think this means for the state Republican Party?

Larry Sabato: It certainly is good news for the leadership of the party. It's important to remember, though, that McCain did muster 44 percent and that Virginia was the closest of the three contests on Tuesday night. Now, a good bit of McCain's vote came directly from Independents and Democrats, but 28 percent came from Republicans. So that's a big chunk of the party that split off, not just from the leadership, but from every conceivable party endorsement. So the party is not completely united, but there would have been chaos had McCain won. So it's good news for George Allen, very good news for Jim Gilmore and should help the Republican Party make the most of the election year.

Charlottesville, Va.: Did you schedule my midterm now so you'd be free to answer questions online? Just teasing :-) Do you think Bush only taking Virginia by 9 percent weakens him at all? Virginia is supposed to be one of his strongest support centers.

Larry Sabato: Why aren't you taking your midterm, the way you're supposed to? :-)

No, I believe that with the very strong turnout, nine points was enough – just enough – for Bush to do what he had to do. It could have been so much worse for Bush, and almost was.

Buffalo, N.Y.: Larry, I lived in Virginia for a decade until, just like the hero in Garrett Epps' "The Shad Treatment," I was compelled to leave because of the state's (excuse me: the commonwealth's) resistance to progress/change of any sort. I knew that Bush would win Virginia simply because he was the Establishment candidate, which is good enough for most Virginia voters. My question is: Why are things this way? Why, when so many other states are entranced by McCain's newness and vitality, does Virginia instinctively vote for the same, old thing? I call it the Mills Godwin Principle.

Larry Sabato: Well, Virginia is a socially and culturally conservative state, even more than it is a politically conservative state. So you are right to suggest that populists such as Henry Howell don't win all that often in Virginia. We're not called the Old Dominion for nothing. But in defense of Virginia, I would also point out that McCain did better here than he did in either North Dakota or Washington state. So whatever is now happening, it is not just happening in Virginia.

Alexandria, Va.: Prof. Sabato:

As a longtime fan of your television commentary, I am looking forward to your discussion here.

Do you think that the Reverends Robertson and Falwell still have the stranglehold on the Virginia Republican Party that they once did? If yes, why?

Larry Sabato: No, they no longer have as much control, in part because both of them are so controversial, even radioactive. I understand well that they endorsed governors Allen and Gilmore, but in politics, you learn more from what people don't say and do than from what they do say and do. The Republicans try to keep Robertson and Falwell at arms' length and try to keep joint public appearances at a minimum. This speaks volumes.

Alexandria, Va.: When I came online Tuesday night to check the primary results, I was struck by The Washington Post's headline "Bush wallops McCain in Virginia." It implied a landslide. Then I read the facts. Is 53 percent to 44 percent appropriately categorized as a "wallop" these days?

Larry Sabato: Good question.

What happened was this: The early exit polls correctly suggested that the margin would be somewhere between 9 and 11 points in Virginia. But something went amiss in the final wave, and the word we got at 6:30-7 p.m. was that Bush was winning by 16 points or so. Now that would have been a landslide. There was just one problem: He only won by 9. Increasingly, I view exit polls with the same critical eye that I view pre-election polling. They give you a sense of the trend, but nothing more. And we should not base any precise calibrations on them.

Arlington, Va.: I'm a nonreligious, independent, military veteran living in Northern Virginia and I voted for Bush. Why? Because McCain likes to talk about decreasing the influence of special interests in politics, but never misses the opportunity to try and jam Southwest Airlines flights into National Airport over the objection of local governments for the benefit of a powerful company located in his state. Yeah, right John.

But I digress...McCain is not getting support from "traditional" Republican voters and say he wants to refocus the party. My question is two-fold:

1. If McCain's supporters are all Independents and Democrats, why is the media spin that's bad for Bush or Republicans, not there must be some reason all these voters aren't supporting Gore? Isn't the fact that they are rejecting Gore more important -or at least as important- than they are supposedly rejecting Bush?

2. If these so called Independents-moderates-Reagan Republicans-Clinton Democrats are such a force in national politics then shouldn't McCain just run as a third party candidate for these people as either the "Nut De Jour" of the Reform Party, or as a new third party candidate? And in a three-way race, wouldn't all these Independents-moderates-Reagan Republicans-Clinton Democrats voting for McCain hurt Gore more than Bush?

Larry Sabato: You make some good points and ask some interesting questions. I frankly do not know the answers to all of those questions, because predicting the future is hazardous to one's professional health.

But your question suggests something important. There are multiple interpretations and dozens of not-improbable scenarios that can be spun from the same data set. Yet seemingly within minutes, the smarty pants in the news media and punditocracy settle into a comfortable conventional wisdom that allows for only one correct interpretation of the events of the night or day. I would submit your question as Exhibit A for those who are too tempted to pay attention to the drivel in the mass media.

Richmond, Va.: Dr. Sabato,
What are your thoughts on the implications of yesterday's results on the future of Tom Davis/ Even though GW Bush won Virginia, he lost in the 11th. Davis was the only GOP congressman who failed to deliver his district to GW Bush. In addition, he lost Fairfax County.

Does this bode well for Gerry Connolly? Is Davis vulnerable? Thanks again. I always enjoy hearing your insight.

Larry Sabato: Northern Virginia is one of those places that never gives congressmen absolute security. Just look at the list of victims in recent times: Joel Broyhill, Stan Parris, Herb Harris, Joe Fisher and Leslie Byrne. So only a foolish person would declare Davis invincible. Nonetheless, he would be among the last congressmen in Virginia that I would ever want to take on. He is well positioned ideologically, has a strong positive image and has already secured a leadership post at an early stage of his career. But life is full of surprises.

Austin, Tex.: Please explain to me why McCain would benefit from his alienating comments and assaults on Robertson and John Warner. It's one thing to refer to the "vast right-wing conspiracy" and another to openly isolate individual leaders. I'm no Clinton fan, but McCain needs to be smarter than his been the last few days.

Larry Sabato: I can understand why McCain would go after someone who is directly attacking him, but I must admit complete puzzlement about McCain's attack on John Warner. Yes, Warner endorsed Bush, but in recent days, he has said more positive things about McCain than Bush! That is one disturbing aspect of McCain's character. He goes out of his way to make enemies and to punish anyone who dares to defy his view of reality.

Haysi, Va.: Prof. Sabato,

It is truly an honor to be able to address you. Was it not a bigger mistake for Sen. McCain to attack the, until-now unheard of, "Gilmore-Warner Machine" than it was for him to castigate Robertson and Falwell? Furthermore, what do you make of McCain's explanatory spin that Bush has a "Southern Strategy" and that the Super Tuesday states are more representative "of a cross-section of America." He seems to be lumping the commonwealth together with South Carolina as though they were one and the same. It is these two comments by the senator-not his allusions to Messrs. Robertson and Falwell – that disturbed this Virginian. How could he (or better yet his hired guns) have such a fundamental misunderstanding of Virginia?

Larry Sabato: Let me address two aspects of your thoughtful question.

Believe me, there is no Gilmore-Warner machine, and I agree with you that it was one of the silliest comments that I have seen in many a political moon. It does cause one to wonder about the senator and his advisers. I also agree with you about the comparisons made on election night by the McCain camp about Virginia and South Carolina. North Carolinians like to say that they are a valley of humility between two mountains of conceit, but other than that, I am not persuaded that the states have much in common. For example, Northern Virginia is a moderate-to-liberal, highly educated, upper income area that casts a quarter of Virginia's vote. South Carolina is far more dominated by rural counties and cities that also have a rural or suburban flavor.

Finally, let's not forget that not only does Virginia not fly the Confederate flag from its state capitol, but Virginia elected the nation's first and so far only African-American governor. Can you even imagine that happening in South Carolina?

Dearborn, Mich.: Dr. Sabato –

Can you explain the logic behind "winner-take-all" primaries? They seem to have the potential to negate the vote of a sizeable portion of the electorate. A primary that assigns a proportion of the delegates to each candidate appears much fairer.

Thank you.

Larry Sabato: The advantage of winner-take-all primaries is that they enable a party to wrap up its nominating process much more quickly, thus avoiding as much bloodshed as possible. However, you are correct that if fairness is the goal, some version of proportional representation makes more sense. It all depends on your values and your goals.

Free Media: That was our last question today for UVA political analyst Larry Sabato. Prof. Sabato regrets that he was unable to take more of your submissions in the time allotted, but he thanks everyone for some terrific and thoughtful questions.p> Thanks to Prof. Sabato and to everyone who joined us.

Tune in on Friday at 11 a.m. EST for Holding Court with Post Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic. Joan will talk about the latest decisions from the justices and this week's court news.

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