I’ve been chewing over Del. Brian Moran’s resignation of his seat today, wondering a) why, b) why now, and c) what effect that it will have on the race. I think the simplest explanation is probably the right one.
The “why now” is at the center of it, I think. In a statement, Moran told constituents that that “you deserve the full attention of your representative in the legislative work this coming year.” That may well be true, but the legislative session begins in a month and two days. Moran’s known for years that he’d be spending this session campaigning for governor; he could have announced his planned resignation months ago, giving plenty of time for candidates to line up, obviating a special election, and allowing for the normal succession of power to take place. This surely represents an abrupt, unplanned change in tack. What’s changed? Just one thing: Terry McAuliffe entering the race. McAuliffe’s entry is terrible news for Moran, since they’re surely fighting over the same primary votes. Worse still, members of the legislature are prohibited from fundraising for state races while the General Assembly is in session, so McAuliffe gets to control the board for a month and a half while Moran (and Sen. Creigh Deeds) are twiddling their thumbs. In addition, Moran also gets to avoid any tough votes this year, while Deeds will have them pegged to his record. I can’t see that as a motivation for his decision, but it is an advantage.
The question, then, is what effect that this will have on the race. As a supporter of Sen. Deeds (my senator), the effect looks pretty good to me. International relations theory substantially concerns itself with the balance of power, and what happens when that balance is thrown off. As al-Qaeda well knows, it’s easier to bait two powerful nations into fighting each other than to actually fight them yourself; at the end, they’re both weakened and you, by comparison, are stronger. With regard to fundraising, I don’t doubt that Moran and McAuliffe will be able to substantially outraise Deeds in the primary phase of the race. They both live way upstate, which is where the money’s at. For both Moran and McAuliffe’s, their best hope is to be the last man standing, and be left with more money than Deeds. If Moran couldn’t fundraise during session, that would leave McAuliffe far ahead of Moran, which would likewise put him at an advantage over Deeds. Moran and McAuliffe will now balance each other out; it doesn’t matter if McAuliffe raises $10M by the primary if Moran does the same. While they’re fighting over the same bunch of primary voters, Deeds can quietly collect support among voters towards the center.
Creigh Deeds says that he has no intention of stepping down from his seat, and I think that’s absolutely the right tack; it’s part of how he’ll show daylight between Moran and himself. (Remember how McCain was ridiculed for suspending his campaign due to”historic crisis in our financial system”? Obama responded, rightly, that “it’s going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”)
Frankly, I’m not sure that Moran had a choice here—he’d be ceding the race to McAuliffe if he didn’t give up his seat at this point. Obviously, the “let them bleed each other dry” approach is not an election-winning strategy unto itself, but it’s certainly a significant aspect of this race. Now the Deeds campaign needs to keep its collective fingers crossed that Moran and McAuliffe are evenly matched. And Creigh Deeds needs to make the most of this session.