The waiting is over.
The Post’s editorial board made its choices known in next Tuesday’s gubernatorial primaries: Ralph Northam for the Democrats and Frank Wagner for the Republicans.
For political junkies, and political campaigns, editorial board endorsements are eagerly followed, though the effect such endorsements have on Election Day is unclear.
Only once in recent Virginia statewide elections has an endorsement made a difference in a race’s outcome: The Post’s 2009 endorsement of Sen. Creigh Deeds in the Democratic primary.
There are striking similarities between the Deeds and Northam endorsements. In 2009, The Post said of Deeds:
“Our judgment, from watching Mr. Deeds over the years, is that he is more politically astute than his “aw, shucks” persona might suggest.”
Of Lt. Gov. Northam, the editorial board said:
“His aw-shucks country-doctor affect notwithstanding, Mr. Northam is a shrewd politician whose decade in office — six years as a state senator, and now as lieutenant governor — has made him highly regarded in Richmond, including among Republican lawmakers, who tried to recruit him to switch parties in 2009.”
“Astute,” “shrewd,” and, “aw, shucks.” It seems that in the editorial board’s eyes, Deeds and Northam are cut from the same political cloth.
The Northam campaign is counting on The Post endorsement to seal the deal on Tuesday, as happened for Deeds eight years ago, and has already bundled the endorsement into a campaign ad.
The Post’s pick should help Northam at the margins. And, because Virginia primaries tend to be low-turnout affairs, every little boost, especially in vote-rich Northern Virginia, can make the difference.
But what to make of the endorsement of Sen. Frank Wagner for the GOP nomination?
The editorial board praises Wagner for being “in some ways a GOP version of Mr. Northam — down-to-earth, substantive, principled and well-versed in policy and the ways of Richmond.”
Republican voters might view that as damning comparison.
But it isn’t unfair.
Wagner is a down-to-earth guy. And he was able to score legitimate points against Republican frontrunner Ed Gillespie in their April debate over Gillespie’s tax proposal.
He also has spent more time and given more thought than his Republican rivals to the economically distressed regions in Southside and Southwest Virginia.
The Roanoke Times said Wagner’s ideas are “very geographically specific,” focusing on infrastructure as a way to bring prosperity back to those regions.
Wagner’s problem is that Republican orthodoxy (or what’s left of it), stands against tax hikes, which Wagner is unafraid of saying are essential to getting his infrastructure plans off the ground.
Some may like Wagner personally (if they know who he is). But the tax thing? No dice.
Then there are also those Republicans who recall the nasty intramural dust-up in 2014 over control of the state party’s 2nd Congressional District, a fight that introduced the term “slating” to the wider political world.
More than a few Republicans still recall Wagner’s actions in that fight. The party made every effort to smooth over the differences between the factions, but Wagner’s statewide brand among base voters took a lasting hit.
And it is exactly these sort of voters — still anti-tax, and some still smarting over slating — who will show up to vote on primary election day.
As The Post says, Wagner is “an underdog lagging in money and, outside his Virginia Beach district, name recognition.”
True. Wagner will remain a force in the Senate, and he will be able to push some of the ideas he’s proposed in this campaign from his perch in that chamber.
And he will have a fantastic memento of this campaign: The Post’s endorsement.