Lose the Base, Lose the Election

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Oct 21, 2009 at 17:00

New polling on the 2009 Virginia Governor's election is horrendous for Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds. Of the five polls where the majority of interviews were conducted over the last ten days (that is, since October 11th), Deeds trails by an average of 12.0%. The margin is the same whether you are looking at the median or the simple mean. With only 13 days until the election, it is highly unlikely that Deeds is going to make up such a large deficit.

Perhaps the most important factor in Deeds' impending defeat will be the lack of turnout among Obama voters. In 2008, President Obama won Virginia by a margin of 52.6%-46.3%. However, two recent polls, Survey USA (by 1%) and PPP (by 6%), show McCain voters outnumbering Obama voters within the 2009 Virginia electorate.

In both the Survey USA and PPP polls, Deeds scores 80% of Virginians who voted for Obama in 2008, and 5% of Virginians who voted for McCain. McConnell has 12% of Obama voters in PPP, and 19% in Survey USA. The Republican nominee also has the support of 88% of McCain voters in PPP, and 95% according to Survey USA.

As such, if the 2009 Virginia electorate had the same 52.6%--46.3% proportion of Obama and McCain voters as it did last year, Creigh Deeds would be 9% closer in both the Survey USA and PPP polls:

Survey USA (2008 turnout model in parenthesis)
McDonnell (R): 59% (54%)
Deeds (D): 40% (44%)

PPP (2008 turnout model in parenthesis)
McDonnell (R): 52% (47%)
Deeds (D): 40% (44%)

If the Obama-voting Democratic base was an excited in 2009 as it was a year ago, Deeds would still be losing, but he would be within striking distance. Instead, he is about to get wiped out, and decided to rev up the base with statements like this from last night (more in the extended entry):

Chris Bowers :: Lose the Base, Lose the Election
At the final debate of race last night, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds said he "shared the broad goals" of health care reform, but would "certainly consider opting out" of a public option "if that were available to Virginia."

"I'm not afraid of going against my fellow Democrats when they're wrong," Deeds said. "A public option isn't required in my view."

Deeds has since backpedaled from this statement, but a campaign clarification at a press gaggle doesn't cancel out a televised debate. The damage is done: Deeds isn't afraid to go against Democrats when they are wrong.  Fine.  If that is the way he thinks, then I hope enjoys getting wiped out at the polls because Democrats don't turn out for him. At least, as the Democratic nominee, he ran on a campaign he could believe in: attacking Democrats.

Many Democrats still take it as obvious that moving to the right is the best way to win elections, because the Democratic and liberal vote is static and doesn't change.  Deeds' predicament is a perfect example of why that thinking is stupid and self-defeating.  Currently, he trails by 12%, but he would be 9% closer if Democrats in Virginia were as excited about his candidacy as they were about Obama's.

The liberal and Democratic vote is not static. It can vary both as a percentage of the total electorate, and in its support for Democratic nominees. For example, in the 2008 election, liberals were actually a slightly larger swing vote for President Obama than either moderates or conservatives. Also, in 2006, Democrats improved their share of the national House vote more from self-identified Democrats than from Republicans and Independents combined.

I am not arguing here that exciting the liberal and Democratic base is the most important aspect of a campaign for Democratic nominees.  Rather, I simply wish to point something out that should be obvious to Democratic politicians and campaign operatives: both turnout levels and partisan preference for self-identified liberals and self-identified Democrats vary from election to election.  Those variations will have an impact on the outcome of any given election, and are largely determined by the behavior of the Democratic nominee.  As such, ignore--or even actively distance yourself from--the liberal and Democratic base at your own peril.  

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Deeds SUCKS!!! (4.00 / 1)
Deeds is terrible - I voted for McAuliffe in the primary.  Needless to say, I stand by my vote then.  Deeds is so bad that I'd stay home if I still lived in VA (I now live in CT).  Four years ago, I took Election Day off to volunteer for Tim Kaine.  Now, Deeds is going to torch the rest of the VA Democratic Party - they are likely to lose 5+ House of Delegates seats.  At least the Senate is not up for election - we'd get swept.

vote third party or write in someone (4.00 / 2)
don't stay home, or the conservadems will claim you are just an apathetic nonvoter.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Well I AM arguing that! (4.00 / 3)
"I am not arguing here that exciting the liberal and Democratic base is the most important aspect of a campaign for Democratic nominees."

It's BY FAR the most important part. In a polarized electorate, the most important thing is to energize your own base. Bush understood that implicitly! He ran the entire administration to the hard-right. Nothing else matters. Sure, you have to appeal to moderates and some independents. But, they will vote for someone who stands up and fights for his principles. Millions voted for Bush even though they disagreed with him, just because he was "strong and wrong." And a majority of Americans PREFER that to "weak and right." If Obama fought as hard for progressive ideals as Bush did for conservatism he would win, hands down. He's vastly more articulate and his ideas are vastly MORE popular. The right-wing would be even more frothing at the mouth but no matter how deep their hate, they each have only 1 vote.

Today, it doesn't matter what Republicans think any more than it mattered what I thought of Bush in 2000 or 2004. All that mattered was that Bush managed to get TWO hell-bent right-wing shitheads to outvote me.

Winning should be easy. What Democrats want is peace, corporate responsibility, affordable health care, decent paying jobs, and a world where we don't all drown or bake due to global warming. We should win every election hands down. IT's not as though we're trying to sell war, fear and recession, on top of tax cuts that benefit the top 1%, not us.

As Bush said shortly before the 2004 election: "If we get our voters to turn out we'll be just fine."

He was counting on mobilizing his base with endless attack advertising. He went on the offensive and won despite a HORRIBLE record, a dead-end war, and net job-loss figures that normally would sink any president.

He did it because he out-organized and out-fought the Democrats. He identified his voters and made sure they were happy with him and the Republican party. And he didn't give a rat-ass what I or any liberal Democrat thought of him or his policies.

How is it that Democrats can't figure out this simple lesson: the other sides' voters are NOT going to vote for you, so there's no point in appealing to them! They keep bleating about "bi-partisanship" when there's no such thing. If every Democrat surrendered and gave up on health care reform, would that mollify the tea-baggers?

Democrats have NEVER learned this lesson. They pride themselves on being the "big-tent" and forget that you have to produce policies that make the base happy or they won't bother to turn out and vote for you.

And that is ALWAYS fatal. They act like Republicans are going to suddenly start voting for them if they just destroy the health care bill. It's beyond sickening.

There IS NO middle ground. Period. Republicans have seen to that from Nixon on. They have systematically and deliberately destroyed the middle, real bi-partisanship and comity in American politics. Lee Atwater pioneered the win at any costs mentality. To win you have to destroy your opponent. And we saw that same effort in every election since 1968. It's only Democrats who refuse to fight in kind.

It's been plausibly said that if Atwater had lived, Clinton would never have become President.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, Deeds sucks. But does he suck more than McDonnell? (0.00 / 0)
This seems to be just another one of those "lesser of two evils" elections. no matter what you do, the result will be bad. But at least the voters can decide HOW bad. And if you stay at home or vote 3rd party, you bear a small share of the responsibility if the next governor will be worse than Deeds. Well, is there something positive to say about McDonnell? would he be better than Deeds? That is the question.

Oh, and btw, how did the liberal hating asshole Deeds manage to get nominated at all?

[ Parent ]
Poor consultants (4.00 / 13)
I'm constantly astonished at how lousy Democratic party political consultants are. They continuously give their candidates poor advice and run mush-mouth, message-less campaigns. The fact that, first and foremost, you have to appeal to the audience segment that has the greatest affinity for you is marketing 101. You never base your strategy on the marginal prospects. Never. Why do our candidates continue to pay these guys big bucks when they could be getting better advice for free by reading Chris Bowers at OpenLeft?

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Sorry 'bout the double posting (4.00 / 1)
guess I sent my mouse into hysteria

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
No problem (4.00 / 2)
I deleted the first iteration.

[ Parent ]
sometimes the candidate is the problem... (4.00 / 4)
You know, sometimes the candidate is the problem.  I think Deeds is a really awful candidate and a bad Democrat.  He's out of step with his own Senate district (based in liberal Charlottesville, even though he is from conservative Bath County near WV), let alone the VA Democratic Party.  I think that Deeds thinks he running in WV, not the new Virginia as shown by the 2008 elections.  Oh well - he's learning the hard way.  I just wish he wouldn't take the rest of the party down with him.

[ Parent ]
True (4.00 / 3)
As a consultant myself, I'm well aware that the client doesn't always take your advice. But because the practice of appealing to the margins is so widespread in the Dem party, it leads me to believe that there is a pervasive mindset among political operatives that this is the only way to go. That said, I appreciate your perspective about Deeds. You're more informed about his candidacy than I am.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
because conservadems are freemarket (4.00 / 2)
ideologues and stealth republicans, not pragmatists that they claim to be.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Neither conservadems nor (4.00 / 6)
most Republicans are free market ideologues.  They are ideologues - but they are use the power of government in the service of the powerful.  It's not about whether government power is used, or about faith in markets or entrepreneurship, but about in whose interests they will support government action or inaction.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Sort of right (0.00 / 0)
But I think it's more complicated than that. If they really were attuned to free market practices, they would know a little more about how to actually implement them in a successful marketing campaign. I've worked with plenty of clients who wear progressive values on their sleeves but don't know how to actively "sell" them. I think it has more to do with moral cowardice than lack of pragmatism. That they're so afraid to fail they continuously think about trimming their potential losses.  

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
You should see the PATHETIC campaigns in WA. (0.00 / 0)
We have a bigot intitiative (71) put out by fundy scumbags. We have our homegrown accolyte of Prop 13 doing everything (1033) he can so his selfish lazy ass doesn't have to pay for the infrastructure that took 60 or 70 years to build. We have a lying Discovery Institute bush huckabee donating ex- t.v. announcer (huitchinson) running for top job in 1 of the largest counties in the country. we have a Dem state legislature, both branches, a Dem governor, and they solved the budget disaster by whacking 3000 teachers and hundreds and hundreds of local useful gov't serfs.

and the air campaigns are the SAME whiny ass pathetic campaigns which barely work, well, except, seattle votes bluer than blue... we hope.

this will sound nuts, but ...

given 5 million bucks and 4 election cycles, I could unemploy ALL our senior Dim-O-Crats AND the flat earthers wouldn't have a chance.

given the tens of millions pissed away every election on pathetic dishrag barely winning campaigns ... am I that nuts?


It is too full o' the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way

[ Parent ]
Living proof (4.00 / 11)
Deeds is living proof that running the Democratic Party of the Blue Dogs, by the Blue Dogs and for the Blue Dogs is a sure way to turn the country back to the Bushie Republicans.  The GOPers may not know how to govern but they are clear in what they want and ruthless in going for it.

As for Deeds, he profited by the Post endorsement and the food fight between TMac and Moran in the debates.  Nobody was more none-of-the-above than Deeds and that won't cut it in the general election.  He's got to be for something if he wants to excite the base and win.

The thing to note (0.00 / 0)
All three Dem candidates in VA this year SUCKED. They were all brutal, though McAuliffe might could have used his honestly earned fortune (ahem) to give a better fight. Deeds won by default (Homer Simpson's two favorite words in the English language), and McDonnell is a colossal douchebag, bigot, sexist, mysogynist, homophobe, xenophobe, younameit.  

Not worth losing sleep over any of this. The most Neanderthal ticket in the modern history of Virginia (12 years!) will be elected. Hey, it's already illegal 85 ways for me to marry some other dude, so it's not like my rights are going to be infringed upon any more, really! It'll be a trainwreck like California -- Hey! that's true of a lot of states.

The DPVA is run by incompetents. The Republic will survive.

This country is still very much on the brink of being run by idiots (all of our angry white parents, well at least mine). They need about 20 years to die off. We'll be alright after that.  

[ Parent ]
so is this an example of a primary hurting? (0.00 / 0)
The first comment above is not unusual and reflects the bitter comments (particularly from Moran people) that went around during the VA primaries, though obviously we can't draw secure conclusions how many people feel based on internet comments.

I ask because "Open Left" typically argues fears of contested primaries are overblown, so it might be worth thinking about.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

primaries are generally good... (4.00 / 3)
I think that primaries are generally very good for the Democratic Party.  Competition is good, and Democratic Party primary voters tend to be sensible.  

But, multi-way primaries can be unpredictable.  Sharply negative campaigning (the primary campaign in VA got very negative) can lead to relatively weak victors as stronger campaigns blow each other up.  The upcoming debacle in VA should serve as an argument against sharply negative primary campaigns when competitive general election campaigns will follow.

[ Parent ]
Deeds' problems are run of the mill Democratic problems (4.00 / 3)
His commercials are the same old stuff. His campaign has put little effort into the base or mobilizing voters - again, standard Democratic mistakes. I don't see any way to tie these problems to the primary.

That said, I agree that there downsides to ugly primaries. Primaries should be about conflict - that empowers voters to make sensible decisions. But when they become overly concerned with cynical mudslinging, that undermines their value - by turning people off from politics and distracting us from legitimate differences that ought to the point.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
thanks for the responses (0.00 / 0)
As you may know, we get very few primaries in NJ, as the deals are made beforehand (or even afterwards, when candidates drop out.)

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
I think a lot of people (4.00 / 1)
really underestimate this dynamic. The invisible primary goes very far to limit our choices - the ability to vote notwithstanding.  

I wonder whether, in places like NJ, there is any ability to activists to mobilize at the local level to take over the party. That's how conservatives did it decades ago - and I think progressives could do so without believing that base politics can be the sole driving factor for a party.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
risk was worth it in va (0.00 / 0)
i think it was a risk worth taking to defeat mcaullife (and by extension the clinton machine). this is only a gov. btw.

[ Parent ]
Silver lining (4.00 / 7)

 Every time a Democrat loses a winnable election, the party elites join with the Village choir in blaming it on the candidate being "too liberal", and pivot from that to try to push the party farther to the right. It's a pattern that's inflicted enormous damage on the party's brand over the decades.

 But there's no way they can do that this time. The argument wouldn't be credible to anybody. So, at least, we'll be spared the media homilies about how we're a center-right country and Democrats need to keep that in mind and all that.

 It's also worth noting that the last two Virginia governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, were both much further to the left than Deeds. (This is not to imply that either is a progressive, but they're both legitimate Democrats, unlike Deeds.) And they both won their statewide elections handily.

 I feel sorry for my colleagues on the Virginia Dem committees. They have to try to sell a candidate who craps all over the party's ideals. That can't be pleasant.


"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

If only this were true (4.00 / 3)
But there's no way they can do that this time.

The Village is unconcerned with facts - they are concerned with what other people in the Village think. They are almost entirely self-referential.  I think we are fooling ourselves if we think they will learn. The hope is that Democratic rank and file and activists won't listen to this nonsense. There is no guarantee of that either, but it's a possibility.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
I wish you were right (4.00 / 2)
about this:

But there's no way they can do that this time. The argument wouldn't be credible to anybody. So, at least, we'll be spared the media homilies about how we're a center-right country and Democrats need to keep that in mind and all that.

But I think the line will be "even a conservative Democrat like Deeds lost by 12 in VA, so I guess this means the situation is bad for Democrats..."

[ Parent ]
We hit back with New Jersey (4.00 / 1)

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
lest you forget the creative coalition (4.00 / 1)
This is the killer:

A comparison of Virginia's 2008 exit polls and the recent Times-Dispatch survey reveals Deeds' challenge in trying to cobble together the Obama coalition.

Blacks: In November 2008, blacks accounted for 20 percent of Virginia's voter turnout, according to exit polls reported by MSNBC. Obama won 92 percent of blacks' votes, to 8 percent for Republican John McCain.

In the Times-Dispatch poll of 625 likely voters, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. estimated that blacks will make up only 15 percent of this year's turnout. Among blacks surveyed, Deeds had the support of 81 percent, to 9 percent for McDonnell, but 10 percent were still undecided.

There is more:

Young voters: Obama beat McCain 60 percent to 39 percent among Virginia voters ages 18 to 29, according to the exit polls.

In the Mason-Dixon poll, Deeds led McDonnell among voters ages 18 to 34 by just 46 percent to 42 percent, with 12 percent undecided.

Women: Among Virginia's women voters, Obama won 53 percent to 46 percent, according to the exit polls. In the Mason-Dixon survey, Deeds led McDonnell among women by 45 percent to 40 percent, but 15 percent remained undecided.

The margins ain't nothing:

Independents: In Virginia, Obama edged McCain, 49 percent to 48 percent in this category. But in the Mason-Dixon survey, McDonnell led Deeds among independents, 47 percent to 33 percent.

Deeds also has been unable to match Obama's support regionally.

Obama carried Northern Virginia by 233,000 votes, Hampton Roads by 79,000 and greater Richmond by 39,000, offsetting other regions, where Republicans rule.

In the Mason-Dixon poll, Deeds led by 9 percentage points in Northern Virginia, but by just 1 percentage point in Hampton Roads. In the Richmond metro area, McDonnell, a former state attorney general and former Virginia Beach delegate, led by 17 percentage points.


Forget Deeds, the Real Race is Shannon v. Cuccanelli (0.00 / 0)
Ken Cuccanelli, if he wins the VA AG slot, might end up as the wingnuttiest wacko embarrassment in the country and would validate every crazy far, far right theory.  He denies global warming and calls those who believe science on the subject "watermelons" -- green on the outside, red, as in communists, on the inside.  Cuccanelli has said his top priority would be to enforce the law against marrage equality.  I'll leave it up to the readers imagination how he will come up with innovative ways to harass and discriminate against gay people.  He is rabidly anti-union.  He probably does not believe in evolution.  Cuccanelli makes Bob McDonnell look like Allan Ginsberg.  

A Democratic vote in the Attorney General race is something everyone here ought to get behind.  I'll let others argure about the strategy in the Gov's race, for now lets all agree that Ken Cuccanelli is one nightmere that just should not happen.  Shannon is considered a "wonk" and a moderate by the Washington Post.  He is unexciting and mainstream.  Cuccanelli is exciting if your idea of excitement is using a huge legal staff to try out every right wing theory or idea.  Doubt me?  Please research the extremism of Ken Cuccanelli for yourself.  

It is not just not losing the base, but how they are losing the base... (4.00 / 2)
This is more complicated. It is actually having Democratic candidates with "real" demonstrable progressive principles that the base believes you will stand for.

And Obama is, at the moment, a proof for that. Rahm has shown that he will take credit for electing pro business dems, and Obama goes out and stumps for them, but after giving away the farm to Wall Street, and not taking a stand for "Single Payer" which he said he was for until he got elected, many of us are concerned that Democrats have to really "stand up for the people", or we might not vote for them ever again.

Deeds is just another "blue dog" hoping Rahm can help pull him over the line, but those days should be over, and might be, if we are lucky.

It is all about standing up to the powers that be and taking stands for the little people against the pro business elites.


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