With VCU Political Analyst Robert D. Holsworth
Monday, June 4, 2001
Heading into the Virginia Republicans' two-day convention, the two gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. John Hager and Attorney General Mark Earley, both are eagerly campaigning for the right to battle Democrat Mark Warner in the fall. The victor in the primary will have two tasks for the general election: rally the GOP behind one candidate and win the support of independents and Democrats as well.
How did the winner emerge at the convention? What are the party's chances against Mark Warner's deep pockets? What are things to watch for in the coming months?
Prof. Robert D. Holsworth is the director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert in politics in the Old Dominion. He will be live online Monday, June 4 at 2 p.m. EDT.
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Thanks for joining us today, Prof. Holsworth. Mark Earley defeated John Hager by a 3-1 margin at the GOP convention this weekend. Was that a surprise?
Robert D. Holsworth: The only possible surprise was the extent of Earley's margin. Almost all observers believed that Earley had a sizeable lead going into the convention and that he would be more capable of getting his pre-filed delegates to Richmond. Nonetheless, it was an impressive testimony to the organizational skill of the Earley campaign that they were able to win so resoundingly.
How important are moderates or independents in this race? Who do you think can do a better job of courting them?
Robert D. Holsworth: Both candidates will want to ensure that they can mobilize their base voters and than reach out to moderate swing voters. This is important for both candidates, but perhaps even more important for Mark Warner. The Democrats cannot win without strong support among moderate swing voters inasmuch as the Virginia electorate has certainly tilted Republican of late. At the same time, Earley will not be able to win if he is simply perceived as representing the social conservatives inside the Republican Party. But if the voters who voted for George Allen do not crossover to Warner, Earley could certainly win.
Much has been made about how wealthy Mark Warner is. How much fundraising does Earley need to catch up or even be competitive?
Robert D. Holsworth: I spoke to a prominent GOP strategist this weekend at the convention and he told me that Earley can win--if he can raise 15 million dollars. My guess is that it will probably take between 12-15 dollars for Earley to be competitive with Warner in terms of TV time and mailings. The candidate with the most money doesn't always win in Virginia (witness Ollie North and Mark Warner when he ran against Senator Warner)but you do need to raise enough to be competitive. I think that this is where Governor's role as head of the RNC might be very, very helpful to Earley. In addition, I expect that the President and the Vice President will be eating a number of meals in Virginia and that members of the Virginia GOP will be paying for the privilege of their company. The GOP could lose this election, but I do expect them to be competitive financially.
Do you believe that regional identification could supercede party identification in this race? By this I mean do you think that many in Northern Virginia feel it's time for a governor from here who understands the issues up here because Richmond has largely ignored many of the problems up here? And I ask that as a GOPer who used to work in Richmond, but am seriously considering voting for Warner.
Robert D. Holsworth: This is the $64,000 question about this election. Many people felt in 1997 that Don Beyer would beat Jim Gilmore because he was from northern Virginia and understood the concerns better than Jim Gilmore. But the car tax transformed the election and Gilmore actually carried much of Northern Virginia.
I think that Warner has the opportunity to do very well in NOVA and that Earley is unlikely to have the same kind of silver bullet that Gilmore did with the car tax. But I have come to believe lately that there are two northern Virginias. The fastest growing counties in NOVA (for example, Loudoun)are heavily Republican and I expect that Earley will carry these. But Fairfax remains the largest single jurisdiction in the state and if Warner can d much better here than Robb did in the race, he'll be very formidable.
Why has the media given so little attention to Mark Warner's decidedly partisan past as he now trumpets a message of bi-partisanship? And regardless of why he has had such little critique on that issue thus far, do you see that changing as the campaign progresses?
Robert D. Holsworth: I do believe that Warner has had the best of media coverage- so far. The Republicans have been fighting one another (in one fashion or another) for months now while Warner has simply been raising an unprecedented amount of dollars. At the convention this weekend, the GOP clearly indicated that it intends to make Warner's "political character" a defining issue in the race. They want to contrast a George Bush Republican (mark Earley) with a Chris Dodd-like Connecticut democrat (Warner). Given the centrality the argument will have to the campaign I expect that it will be covered extensively. Whether the argument will work, especially against a candidate who has the resources to counter it, is another question. But what is interesting is that the GOP wants to frame this election very much in national terms (Bush v. Dodd, Kennedy and Clinton) because the party believes that it wins in Virginia whenever a race is defined in clear partisan terms.
I took your Virginia Politics class in the fall of 1998 at VCU--one of the best classes I had during my time at VCU.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming Democratic primary for lieutenant governor & attorney general? This is one of the first races in a while that I can't even wage a guess at who will prevail. It seems to be dependent on who turns out their people.
Robert D. Holsworth: It is always good to hear from students who've enjoyed my classes.
I have to say that your thoughts are as good as mine on the upcoming primary. So few people will actually vote that it is like searching for needles in a haystack. Six months ago I would have said that Jerrauld Jones would win the L-G nod, but I think that the race is wide open. Diamonstein has an impressive group of supporters and I think that Tim Kaine has simply run a very good campaign. In any event, I think that the top of the ticket is likely to drive most of the downticket races this year.
It's not clear to me why Earley thought he could circumvent the "natural order" of succession and jump in line ahead of Hager? What ambition and hubris! Would waiting four years to "do the right thing" have been so detrimental to Earley?
Your thoughts, please?
Robert D. Holsworth: I'm not sure that there is a "natural order" of anything in politics these days. Earley had clearly observed the fate of the last two democrats who had remained in place , waiting their turn. Both Mary Sue terry and Don Beyer stayed in their job for two terms and lost landslides when they were finally nominated. I'm a firm believer in the adage that in the political arena the world can change overnight and that you have to seize the opportunity while it is there. I think that Earley did the right thing in pursuing the nomination.
Is there any national Democrat that Warner can bring into the Commonwealth that can really help him? I still remember George Allen daring Chuck Robb during a debate to bring Bill Clinton into the state last fall.
Robert D. Holsworth: This is an interesting observation. The Republican Party will tie itself very closely to the national party. In fact, Mark Earley said at the convention Saturday that he wants Virginians to look at the election as a referendum on President Bush. One cannot imagine a democrat ever making that claim in Virginia. My guess is that instead of attempting to counter the GOP with national figures of their own, the democrats will emphasize that it is a Virginia campaign about Virginia issues, which they will suggest the state GOP hasn't handled very well. But the effort to capitalize on their ties to the national GOP, it is an absolutely integral part of the GOP strategy.
This seems to be Mark Warner's race to lose. Do you agree?
Robert D. Holsworth: It sure looks like this now, but this may be too casual an analysis. If we look at the last two gubernatorial races, we see that the Republicans not only triumphed but also blew the democrats away. In the last decade, the Democrats have actually run much better in presidential years than in gubernatorial contests. With the exception of Beyer against Farris in 1993 and Robb winning a three way race, the democrats' two best performances were Robb's 48% in 200 and Warner's 47% in 1996. This says to me that no matter how strong Warner looks at the moment, there is a lot of work left for the democrats to do. They have to mobilize a base that has been relatively indifferent in gubernatorial years and they need crossover votes. It can be accomplished, but it is by no means a done deal.
How do the candidates stand on the car tax and will that issue be big in this election? I am disgusted by Gilmore's attempts to cut spending on higher education and the environment to fund the car tax reduction. I really don't care if SUV drivers get a break when my community college can't afford proper equipment!
Robert D. Holsworth: I'm not sure that there is a great difference on how the candidates stand on the car tax TODAY. Both candidates say that it will be eliminated, though there may be some disagreement over how quickly the last 30% should be removed.
The GOP made it clear this weekend that they will attempt to portray Warner as an opponent of the car tax who embraced it after it became politically popular.
While I doubt that the democrats will attack the car tax directly, I have no doubt that they will attempt to portray the Republicans as fiscally irresponsible and unable to govern. They will use the budget deadlock and the cuts experienced in higher education because of the deadlock to show why the GOP shouldn't be entrusted with the governorship any longer. And despite the spin the GOP put on it this weekend, I have a feeling that it was one of the strongest arguments that Mark Warner has.
How popular is Governor Gilmore now? It could be to Warner's advantage to say that he can work with the legislature, regardless of party, as opposed to how Gilmore feuded with his own leaders in the legislature. It would be hard for Earley to say he could also without appearing to repudiate Gilmore.
Robert D. Holsworth: Governor Gilmore's popularity, in most polls, is still in positive territory. Nonetheless, the budget deadlock that occurred in the spring is a golden opportunity for Warner. It provides an issue where he can draw a clear distinction and it simultaneously takes away one of the argument that the GOP wanted to use against him- lack of experience in elected office. In fact, this has now become a plus because he will argue that he does not represent politics as usual and that he could never get away running his business like this.
What are your thoughts on Mark Warner's work out in the Southwestern part of the state? Do you think it will pay dividends for him come November? Does he stand the risk of losing some of his Northern Virginia base?
Robert D. Holsworth: When I meet political figures, I always like to figure out what really moves them and what are the ideas and issues about which they're most passionate. I think that Mark Warner's commitment to economic development in rural Virginia is not simply a political stance, but is a matter of passion and conviction. Now whether he can actually wean voters away from their recent allegiance to the Republican Party is another matter. George Allen may be Senator Allen today because of how badly he trounced Chuck Robb across the rural areas. Whether Warner's message of economic development is more powerful than Republican ideas about moral values, individualism and the second Amendment will be one of the most interesting questions of this campaign.
Is it true that Earley's campaign is a lot like the Bush campaign? Seems like they're cut from the same cloth.
Robert D. Holsworth: Earley would like to be linked to George Bush for two very specific reasons. First, it would like to have Bush's popularity in Virginia to be transferred to the Earley campaign. perhaps more subtly, the campaign would like national Republicans such as George Bush and Colin Powell to "credential" Earley as a mainstream conservative Republican. I have spoken to some business leaders who have expressed the view that Earley is too closely tied to the social conservatives. Connecting Earley to a Republican president who they have supported may be a win of attempting to draw back into the fold the GOP businesspeople who are openly talking about supporting Warner.
How would you compare the two speaking styles of Mark Earley and Mark Warner and how do you think that will affect their campaigns?
Robert D. Holsworth: Both of the candidates have gotten much better on the stump. Warner has been drawing crowds that have been relatively large for this early in the campaign. I think that he is a very effective speaker, though some Democrats still say that he should speak less about technology and more about so-called bread and butter Democratic issues. But from what I have seen, he is doing a quite a good job delivering a message that people want to hear.
Mark Earley gives very thoughtful speeches that are extremely well organized. He never fails to articulate broad principles and then to illustrate these with concrete examples. Some Republicans make the same criticism that the democrats make of Mark Warner- i.e., doesn't offer enough red meat for the faithful. Nonetheless, I think that both candidates will deliver their message effectively, though I might, at the moment, give a slight edge in the charisma category to Warner.
One final note-in speakingto smaller audiences, they are both very effective. Over the years, I've had both Marks in my class and they've gone over very well with students.
Isn't Earley a product of Pat Robertson?
Robert D. Holsworth: Earley is connected to pat Robertson, but this is not his only connection. When he ran for Attorney General, I noted that he might have been the only political figure in the country who could receive his largest donation from Pat Robertson and obtain the endorsement of the Washington Post. If he is seen primarily as the candidate of the Christian Right, he won't win. But I think that Earley is far too smart than to let himself get defined in that manner. He'll want to mobilize his base among Robertson supporters, but do so in a way that can woo back some of the moderate Republicans who have expressed a serious interest in the Warner candidacy. We'll be looking very closely at his capacity to do this as the campaign progresses.
You talked about the Gilmore "silver bullet." Do you think that Mark Warner's character can be made the issue? The fact that he made his money through shady business dealings and that he is now trying to hide his partisan past.
Robert D. Holsworth: While I expect the media to examine his business success very closely, I doubt that anyone is going to conclude that Warner is "shady." Indeed, I expect a number of prominent business leaders in Virginia and elsewhere to testify to his character and I'm not sure that the Republicans will really want to go too far down this road. Warner's "political" character is likely, however, to be fair game. I fully expect the Republicans will emphasize his partisan past throughout the campaign. The GOP wants to remind Virginians that, at bottom, it is an election between a Republican and a Democrat because the GOP knows that Virginia tilts their way when an election perceived in these terms.
Boynton Beach, Fla.:
Who do you think will win this race and what will be the final percentages?
Robert D. Holsworth: I made my last prediction of this sort in 1989 when I forecast that Eddy Dalton will beat Don Beyer. A 19th century German philosopher once said that the owl of wisdom flies only at dusk. And I tend to think that I do better explaining what has happened than predicting what will occur. Sorry for the wimpiness here.
How is Mark Earley going to keep the dirt from the Car Tax/Budget fiascos off of himself? He has been a Gilmore yes-man through out the entire process. Aside from the money aspect, was his lack of support for the Governor during the budget mess a part of Hager's downfall?
Robert D. Holsworth: Let me answer your second question first. Certainly, the fact that Hager did not support all of the Governor's budgetary maneuvers played a part in his fall from the GOP activists' graces. But this nomination was probably solidified months ago when the GOP decided to hold a convention. Hager would have been more competitive in a primary, though Earley could have won this as well.
Thanks for joining us today, Prof. Holsworth. What can we expect to see in the coming months in this campaign?
Robert D. Holsworth:
At the moment, it is still to soon to know what the defining issues of the campaign will be. We know that everyone cares education and that taxes, economic development, transportation and abortion are big issues also. But campaigns are matters of contrast and we have to see where the candidates will decide to draw clear dividing lines and where they will blur their differences. If this Saturday's convention is any indication, however, the rhetoric will escalate quickly. The GOP will make their assault on Warner's political character an integral part of their campaign and he will have to decide relatively quickly how , if at all, he is going to respond.
Thanks for the great questions. I look forward to chatting with everyone again as the campaign progresses.
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