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There’s more than meets the eye in V.A., Mr. Barnes

September 21, 2009

By Michael S. Smith II, SCHotline Contributing Editor

Exploring the dynamics of the current Virginia gubernatorial race, in a recent oped published by The Wall Street Journal Fred Barnes forecast that if Republican Candidate Bob McDonnell “pulls off a victory, he will demonstrate that 2008 may have been an aberration — an artifact of the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s candidacy and his well-run campaign. A McDonnell win would also likely be a signal that voters got a close look at Mr. Obama’s ideas and took out their frustration with the president on the nearest Democrat — Mr. Deeds.”

While I agree with Mr. Barnes’ assertion, I submit that certain details reveal the backlash Barnes believes may be now mounting against the Democratic Party’s “establishment” figures was already developing during the Virginia Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary contest. Furthermore, the backlash that arose during that primary hints at an impending shakeup in Democratic political strategies across America, unless, that is, the DNC wishes to hand over its power to Republicans in the years ahead.

For those who have not followed political developments in Virginia closely, it is worth noting that throughout the Democratic primary former Dem President Bill Clinton campaigned heavily in support of the eventual victor’s opponent, Terry McAuliffe, who also happened to have been a former chairman of the national Democratic Party.

I have followed this race very closely. In fact, last June, working with Mallory Factor, a prominent Republican fund raiser from New York who now resides in Charleston, S.C., I was organizing a fundraiser for Bob McDonnell that would have been hosted in Charleston not long after the Democratic gubernatorial primary concluded in Virginia. However, in lieu of Deeds’ upset victory in that primary the McDonnell camp decided it would be best for their man to remain in his home state in order to maximize his ability to spend time with voters there.

Why would they have turned down a trip to a lovely place like Charleston where several dozen Republicans were pleased to shell out $1,000 or more to cohost McDonnell’s visit? Because McDonnell’s previous campaign against Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Creigh Deeds — which McDonnell won to become Virginia’s (now former) attorney general — was the closest race in the state’s modern political history. In other words, McDonnell’s campaign strategists immediately recognized his race against Creigh Deeds would be much closer than polling data pointed to before Mr. McDonnell’s master’s thesis became the focus of (too) many Washington Post headlines.

Irrespective of the outcomes of the gubernatorial contest in Virginia, it is already evident that Democrats there are disinclined to offer support for the wishes of their party’s candidates who are closely allied with prominent Democrats like Bill Clinton. Moreover, in terms of Virginia politics, this aspect of matters forebodes a significant likelihood for a further backlash, this time in Mr. McDonnell’s favor, will arise when Barack Obama — who is, as Mr. Barnes noted, the Democratic Party’s increasingly unpopular new guard leader — begins campaigning for Mr. Deeds.

Republican political strategists in Virginia are no-doubt hopeful the experience of the recent Democratic primary will provide them some semblance of things to come as the president starts showing his support for Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Creigh Deeds.

Meanwhile, the question many political strategists across America will be asking:  In the years ahead, how poisonous will associations with Team Clinton be for Democratic candidates, or, for that matter, the sitting Democratic president?

Let there be no doubts that Republican and Democrat political strategists alike will be looking to the impact of Mr. Obama’s role in this year’s Virginia gubernatorial race as the foremost litmus test for future political developments in their respective states.

For Democrats, recent experiences in Virginia suggest it is clearly time to (re)examine the future roles key players part of the Clinton dynasty will play in both state- and national-level politics. After all, much of Pres. Obama’s unpopularity is attributable to the advice he’s taking from Bill Clinton’s own former advisors.

For Republicans, the timing of the Clinton conundrum in Democratic politics couldn’t be much better. We’ll all be hoping Clinton, much like Jimmy Carter, won’t be able to resist the allure of the limelight.



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