Congratulations to His Excellency (it’s really how you address Virginia governors!) the Governor-elect, Terry McAuliffe. Even though you’ve never governed anything, I’m sure you’ll soon learn the ropes around a town like Richmond. And to your opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, we here at Virginia Black Conservative Forum extend to you and your family our sincerest sympathies for your loss and hope that one day you will return to the arena. And besides you can take some comfort Ken in the fact that the loss you suffered wasn’t as bad as many polls projected (one poll had you down by 17 points a week and half before Election Day).
And of course the knives are out and everyone is blaming everyone in conservative and Republican circles here in Virginia. Everyone believes Cuccinelli’s three point loss could have been averted – some say if only more money had been raised or the “establishment” had committed more thoroughly or, or, or….
But the bottom line is this — a loss is a loss. No matter who we blame, it won’t change a damn thing, so let’s all take a deep breath, grow up and honestly assess what’s wrong with the Republican Party. Honestly I think we need new leadership and a new set of consultants and strategists because the ones we have are using 20 year old plays from a 20 yr old playbook and refuse to change up.
It’s the 21st century and attempts to win elections with the old Reagan coalition of ethnic whites, working class whites and wealthy whites with a black or Hispanic or Asian sprinkled in here or there won’t cut it anymore. Virginia is now a state with a vibrant, diverse population – that’s what fueled its economic growth over the past few decades. People of all colors, creeds, etc. have been attracted to Virginia’s attractive business climate and we’re all the better for it. But evidently Virginia Republicans never got the memo, they seem to think its still 1988 and that the suburbs and cities of northern Virginia are still populated by rich and upper middle class white Republican voters.
But we need to get a grip and real soon because the same okie-doke set of campaign tactics that were just pulled against Ken Cuccinelli can and will be pulled against whomever we throw up in 2017. For instance we’re all patting ourselves on the back for probably dragging Mark Obenshain across the finish line Tuesday and we may very well have, or at least I hope we did but what’s to stop the Democrats from running the same social issue wedge issue ads they ran this year in four years? Obenshain’s record is identical to Cuccinelli’s in the state senate. And the same fawning media attention he’s receiving now will have evaporated by the time he receives the Republican nomination for Governor in 2017, so there will be no protection from the onslaught that will be forthcoming. So what will Obenshain and his staff do? History tells us they’ll fall back on the tried and true strategy of drumming up the base, or what the Cuccinelli campaign tried to do the past few weeks, and the likely result will be another Republican defeat. Deservedly so.
But might I suggest a different course. Why not try something the Cuccinelli campaign should have done early on. It’s conventional wisdom that every successful Republican statewide campaign must have a BIG idea to launch itself to victory. In 2009, the McDonnell campaign had “Bob’s for Jobs,” which helped him overcome the controversy over his “a woman’s place is in the home” thesis – as an example. Earlier this year the Cuccinelli campaign came out with an education reform plan that addressed the needs of inner city school students attempting to empower parents and reform advocates in some of worst off school districts. It didn’t gain much attention but it would have been the perfect issue for Cuccinelli to have made the centerpiece of his campaign. It would have softened his image, it would appealed to women voters, it would have appealed to minority voters and it would have showed a substantive side to our Attorney that many voters hadn’t seen. But the issue got buried underneath piles of other policy initiatives and of course negative advertising from the other side. But I believe our 2017 standard bearer should come right out of the gate with this issue and make it his own. Barnstorm every part of the Commonwealth and make education reform an integral part of his campaign. Make the campaign about helping students rise up out of their difficult surroundings and overcoming. It’s a message that would resonate not only in cities but in small rural communities as well where educational funds are stretched thin.
That’s my advice for 2017 and beyond for Republican candidates. Campaigns have to be about more than just turning out the “base,” especially when the base is an ever shrinking segment of a much larger segment of the population.