Could Mark Warner's Virginia Juggernaut Hurt Obama?
Ok, so Barack Obama didn't pick Gov. Tim Kaine to be his #2, but the Democrats' emphasis on Virginia as a--or perhaps even the--crucial swing state in this fall's campaign is hardly flagging. With more than 30 campaign offices spread around the Old Dominion, a torrent of TV spots on Virginia airwaves, and former Gov. Mark Warner as his convention keynote speaker tonight, Obama is making the biggest play for the state's votes in four decades.
"You've got 44 years of history working against you," Warner noted in a phone call with Virginia reporters yesterday, but with 200,000 new voters registered in the state and lots of enthusiasm among young people, the governor says there's a real chance that Virginians might vote Democratic in a presidential race for the first time since Lyndon Johnson won in 1964.
But even given Warner's sturdy popularity three years after he left office and his gaping lead in the polls over Republican Jim Gilmore, are there really reverse coattails? Would a Warner romp push Obama over the top, or might Virginians's legendary political independence assert itself in the form of ticket-splitting?
In interviews in some evenly-split areas of Fairfax County, I encountered quite a few Democrats and Republicans alike who are Warner admirers, but have deep doubts about Obama. In some of those interviews, people who are certain they're going to vote for Warner (and for Fairfax County board chairman Gerry Connolly in his congressional race) say that those selections may fulfill their duty to the Democratic party, sort of freeing them up to go with John McCain for president.
This obviously puts Warner in a pickle, and really, all he can do is campaign hard for Obama and make the argument that those who support him ought to also go with the man at the top of the ticket. But Warner has always presented himself as a bipartisan or post-partisan figure, and while much of that is mere rhetoric, it nonetheless resonates with those who view him as a reasonable person and no-nonsense businessman. Warner made it clear that he has no intent of acting as a Democratic attack dog.
He says he told Obama's people from the start that "if they want a slash and burn, contrasting speaker, that's not me." Warner's obviously not going to run away from Obama, but neither is he likely to traverse the state bashing McCain--at least not too hard, given that his whole shtick is that he draws (and needs) independent and Republican votes.
Warner agrees that despite Obama's power to bring out big crowds in some fairly conservative places (he named Manassas as an example), there are parts of the state where he is personally popular but where Obama is a tougher sell. "In Southside and Southwest and parts of the Valley, Sen. Obama's got to translate that enthusiasm of some into a willingness of larger numbers to listen" to his message, Warner says.
Warner opened the conference call by calling this election and his speech "a real chance for Virginia to shine" and noting that the state "doesn't fall along the red-blue line as much as you"--and here he caught himself falling into media-bashing to a bunch of media hacks, so he paused, backed up and made certain that he restricted his slam to "the national media." But Warner is right--the simplistic conceit that dominates the cable TV version of American politics, the idea that we are polarized into red and blue states, is neither useful nor particularly accurate. A great many Virginians are smack in the middle, and have very little use for party labels or for parties at all.
(Insults aside, reporters on the conference call yesterday deserve combat pay, as
the Warner campaign some wag decided to assault our ears with that bluegrass ditty we'd thought and prayed we might not have to hear ever again--yes, it's the return of The Ballad of Mark Warner," the campaign theme from his gubernatorial bid, the one that starts out, "Mark Warner is a good 'ol boy / From up in NoVA-ville. / He understands our people / The folks up in the hills.")
(The first edition of this here blog item attributed the decision to play the Warner song to the imagemakers of the campaign, but Warner campaign press secretary Emily Kryder now alerts me that her shop had nothing to do with the use of the song during yesterday's press call. Rather, she says, it was some wayward reporter who piped in the music during lulls in the action. Will that newshound now step forward and identify himself? I'm not holding my breath, but all tips should be emailed to me and I will keep the tipster confidential in service of finding out just who inflicted the Ballad on us.)
Warner seems to agree that there is a large pool of voters who haven't figured out Obama yet, who may want a change from Bush and the Republicans, but who aren't ready to take a flier on a guy who seems new to the scene. "There are folks who Sen. Obama hasn't closed the deal with," Warner says. "What I would take issue with is I don't think Sen. McCain has either."
That conforms with the discussions I've been having with Fairfax voters....more on that coming up this week in the column.
By Marc Fisher |
August 26, 2008; 8:20 AM ET
Previous: Countdown to Futility: Nats '08 | Next: From Glass Gem To Bunker: A D.C. Library's Sad Shift
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 8:42 AM
Posted by: Nonsense | August 26, 2008 9:16 AM
Posted by: Nonsense | August 26, 2008 9:18 AM
Posted by: Fake-Name-Guy | August 26, 2008 9:40 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 9:45 AM
Posted by: Stick | August 26, 2008 10:18 AM
Posted by: caliguy55 | August 26, 2008 10:54 AM
Posted by: Benny | August 26, 2008 10:57 AM
Posted by: Kevin | August 26, 2008 11:37 AM
Posted by: dyinglikeflies | August 26, 2008 11:41 AM
Posted by: RTGreenwood | August 26, 2008 11:42 AM
Posted by: DC Voter | August 26, 2008 11:50 AM
Posted by: Ace | August 26, 2008 11:55 AM
Posted by: Leesburger | August 26, 2008 11:57 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 12:14 PM
Posted by: Concerned in Fairfax | August 26, 2008 12:14 PM
Posted by: Vic | August 26, 2008 1:16 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 1:28 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 8:43 PM
Posted by: Yeil nas’gadooshú | August 26, 2008 9:37 PM
Posted by: None of the Above 08 | August 27, 2008 12:18 AM
Posted by: Political Observer | August 27, 2008 12:28 PM
Posted by: Ollie | August 27, 2008 2:00 PM
Posted by: barry barry | August 28, 2008 9:42 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.