Down to the wire in Virginia
As the stroke of midnight passes on Election Day 2005, and the polls are set to open in less than six hours, the Virginia governor's race is still too close to call. I will be hugely relieved to be done with this campaign. Much as I support the Republican candidates and most of what they stand for, I am a little disappointed with the unduly harsh tone of their campaign, and some of their policy proposals.
Perhaps the GOP candidates have been straining too hard because of all the media tricks employed by the Democrats to artificially enhance their public image. For example, a couple weeks ago, our household received in the mail a flyer (see adjacent image), which appeared to be from the Republican Party, or perhaps some group connected in some way with the party, such as the campaign of Russ Potts. The fine print at the bottom refers to the Virginia Club for Growth, falsely implying that it was the sponsor of the flyer. That group's President, Phil Rodokanakis, denounced the blatant deceit by Kaine's campaign, but also criticized Kilgore for failing to sign a "taxpayer protection pledge." (Personally, I am dubious of such pledges.) If you squint to read the fine print where the apparent photo caption is located at the top right of that flyer, however, you can read,
A-ha! So what does the Kilgore campaign do in response? Rather than than seizing the moral high ground and drawing such dirty tricks to the public's attention, they stoop to the Democrats' level with a tit-for-tat retaliation, mailing out a faux Democrat flyer with a donkey emblem on it; see dailypress.com. As a result, the Kilgore campaign got fined for $100, the same token wrist-slap as the Kaine campaign received. As Chad Dotson writes at Commonwealth Conservative, "Dumb, dumb, dumb."
Bush in Richmond
On the way back from a wearying, largely unsuccessful trip to South America, President Bush somehow mustered the energy to make a strong, enthusiastic pitch for Jerry Kilgore at the Richmond International Airport this evening. He said Kilgore would make a "great governor," and I was just glad he refrained from using the adjective "heckuva." Kilgore caught flak for declining an opportunity to campaign with Bush last week, but given Bush's low poll numbers, this was one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations.
Across town, Tim Kaine held his final campaign rally, joined by former governors Doug Wilder (D) and Linwood Holton (R). Kaine stressed his side's upbeat message, and I have to give him credit for that, at least. Now whether his campaign was honest and forthright about his real positions on the issues is another question. When I see that huge ear-to-ear grin and that arched eyebrow, I am reminded of the Cheshire cat: Is there anything behind that smile (and that eyebrow)?
Virginia is a solidly conservative state, and Kaine is openly liberal (or was so until this year's campaign, at least), so Kilgore should be in a better position than he is. What's wrong? Well, the incumbent governor Mark Warner is very popular statewide, and has campaigned very actively for his protege. Also, Mr. Kaine's past missionary work for the Catholic Church in Honduras earned him respect among religious people, including liberals and conservatives, thus blunting the "values" rhetoric often used by Republicans. I really wish that the Kilgore campaign had "stayed on message" with the "Honest Reform agenda" that he outlined during the spring primary campaign. See the video (which I took and edited) of his appearance in Staunton on March 24, when he laid out a very clear, positive policy platform. For the record, and for whatever pittance it may be worth, here are some of my suggestions for future Republican campaigns:
- Make clear the party's long-term vision, and how its specific policy proposals will advance its higher purposes.
- Emphasize how economic conservativism and social conservatism reinforce each other. (This is necessary because of the latent tensions between those movements.)
- Stress concrete past policy accomplishments, and openly acknowledge earnest legislative efforts that fell short because of opposition from Democrats and moderates.
- Improve communication between party leaders and grass-roots workers; easier said than done.
- Stop wasting million of dollars on repetitive, negative, "dumbed-down" television ads. They may push a few more people into the voting booths, but they alienate many potential supporters. This approach also polarizes the public, making it harder to govern.
- Stop using "liberal" as though it were a dirty word. It's not.
- AND FINALLY, Stop pandering to populist sentiments, especially the vain presumption of permanent mass affluence. Energy, and natural resources in general, are scarce and therefore costly.
I also think both parties would benefit greatly if the Virginia General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment to synchronize the statewide election cycle with the national election cycle. Having to compete for votes year after year after year wears out party volunteers, and gets to be very annoying for the vast majority of Virginians for whom politics is not an all-consuming obsession. (As this Web site makes abundantly clear, it is not so for me. )
The Staunton races
On the local front, the Augusta Free Press ran a story, "A conflict of interest?" which focused on the race for Staunton commissioner of revenue between incumbent Ray Ergenbright and Maggie Ragon, whose business partner Kurt Plowman shirked the responsibility he bore for a massive software snafu in City Hall, leading to the widespread misperception that Ergenbright was to blame. Ray has been slow to respond to attacks against him, but he did receive an endorsement from the Waynesboro News Virginian.
In the Treasurer's race, the Staunton News Leader endorsed Rick Johnson, noting that "The incumbent, Elnora Hazlett, did an adequate job until she became embroiled in political infighting with other offices in City Hall." What she did was resist an uncalled-for reduction of her office's staff and functions, and the newspaper's editorial page ridiculed those in the public who came to her defense.