SUSA numbers show why McAuliffe would be such a poor nominee.

The latest SUSA poll in the governor’s race is bad, bad news for Democrats. It’s the realization of my fear about how we Democrats—by way of Terry McAuliffe—could screw up a sure thing.

By way of background, I wrote in December of 2007 that urban Democrats’ power is in danger of outstripping their pragmatism:

As wealthy, urban districts and their representatives gain influence, they’ll come to play a disproportionate role in the selection and election of our statewide candidates. We’ll witness this very battle take place between now and 2009, when Sen. Creigh Deeds and Del. Brian Moran face off for the Democratic nomination for governor. I believe that Sen. Deeds is eminently more electable, by virtue of his being much closer to the center than Del. Moran. But it’s that very trait that may prevent him from being nominated, if the center of Democratic power in Virginia lies as far north as I suspect that it does.

When word of McAullife’s candidacy emerged, I explained that McAuliffe is precisely the sort of candidate that I fear. He can get nominated, but he can’t get elected.

That’s what we see in this Survey USA poll. Among 409 likely primary voters (a too-small sample size, admittedly), McAuliffe has 38% to Deeds’ and Moran’s 22%, with just 18% undecided. That’s a huge split. But among 1,396 likely voters of both parties, McAuliffe is seven points behind Republican Bob McDonnell. Moran is twelve points behind. And Deeds is in the best shape, with a five point deficit. The two percentage difference between Deeds and McAuliffe isn’t hair-splitting—McAuliffe has huge negative ratings, twice those of Moran and two and a half times those of Deeds. A third of the electorate simply doesn’t like Terry McAuliffe, and I can speak from experience that it ain’t entirely Republicans. McAuliffe will have a hell of a time making up that seven-point gap.

The pisser is that it’s Bob McDonnell. The guy is rushing to the left faster than Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cuddled up to Tim Kaine in 2006. He’s a far-right Republican who has suddenly started pretending to be a centrist, with fractured support from a state party that is on the verge of collapse, and who is a member of a national party whose name is mud right now. This should be a cakewalk. McDonnell has enjoyed the exposure that comes of being attorney general, so it’s natural that he’d have higher name recognition and higher favorables at this point. That doesn’t worry me.

What worries me is that Virginia Democrats are preparing to nominate a candidate who much of the electorate dislikes intensely and who appears to have the smallest chance of winning the general election of all of the Democrats. We’re employing the same logic as Republicans who think Sarah Palin should run for president. I’m sure it’s awfully satisfying to support somebody you like so much. But at what cost?

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

32 replies on “SUSA numbers show why McAuliffe would be such a poor nominee.”

  1. Waldo, how old were you in 1985? Because candidates with high negatives can win. It depends upon the candidate and the year.

    As I no longer live in Virginia I have no opinion as to who should be nominated, only that I find your logic unpersuasive.

  2. One thing is for certain, the Republican Governor’s Association is not waiting to find out who the nominee is. They already have a website criticizing McAuliffe for his ties to Clinton, and by extension, the fundraising that took place when Clinton was President.

    We would be foolish to nominate someone like McAuliffe, simply for the reason he has more flash and more cash. My question is, can he (T-mac) stop pretending to be just like Obama? That is not going to win anything, because Obama is insanely popular, and because McAuliffe made no secret of his distaste for Obama last year before he was forced to play the ‘let’s all get along’ game. His ‘positive’ campaign only serves as a plea to not bring up his past behavior. An unexamined candidate is a ‘gotcha’ moment waiting to happen.

    There is so much wrong with McAuliffe as the nominee, I could write an entire article from memory right here in the comments.

  3. Amen. Further, both McAuliffe and Moran have adopted the conceit as their campaign strategy. McAuliffe tried this with Kerry-Edwards in 2004 when he didn’t have a clue how to connect to rural Virginians, and Moran is just openly contemptuous – and strangely befuddled. The tragedy is that McAuliffe could have helped to build a better organized Party with strong leadership. Instead he chose the opportunist grab and his own self interest. McAuliffe equates his money with an investment in Virginia Democratic politics. The good news is that the Republican Delegates remain as clueless, culpable, and vulnerable as they have ever been. Act locally.

  4. Because candidates with high negatives can win. It depends upon the candidate and the year.

    Of course. Any sweeping statement about political truths is going to be wrong sometimes. For instance, the candidate from the party opposing the newly-elected president always wins the governorship in Virginia. That’s true…until it’s not. The candidate who a huge number of people dislikes is going to lose…until one wins. So while past isn’t prologue, it’s a hell of a good indicator. In political science, in fact, it’s all we’ve got.

    We would be foolish to nominate someone like McAuliffe, simply for the reason he has more flash and more cash.

    FWIW, I think the fact that he has a lot of money is a persuasive and relevant consideration. Mark Warner won the governorship in part because he was able to dump ~$10M of his own money (IIRC) into the race.

    I’m left feeling like a River City resident, and the Music Man has just swept into town. He wants everybody to buy a shiny trombone or a big bass drum. But what’s behind it? “The Think Method.” Harold Hill has no idea of how to lead a band, play music, conduct, or teach. But he’s a hell of a good salesman.

  5. Money is relevant, but money alone doesn’t guarantee a good Governor. Mark Warner has and used a lot of his own money in both campaigns he has run recently, and that turned out okay.

    What I see is a ‘cash bandwagon’ effect that attracts people as if the amount of money is a direct correlation to the quality of the candidate. I have heard people talk about how McAuliffe will fund a lot of Delegate races, etc. if he is the nominee.

    Unfortunately, a lot of cash is required to run a campaign. If that changed, the quality of the candidates might be seen more clearly.

    Actually, I am disappointed that the campaigns (not all) feel that the big population centers plus Danville equals electoral victory. I am sick of seeing campaigns go to only 4-5 areas of the state and leave the rest. I think this was one of the points you made before, and here in this article as well.

  6. Alice – in 1985, we elected Democrat Jerry Baliles as governor; He certainly didn’t have big negatives. Terry would be a different kind of Democratic gubernatorial candidate than we have nominated in recent decades.

  7. We elected Doug Wilder Lt Gov in 1985, and everyone thought that no only would he lose, but that we would bring down the other 2 candidates with him, only he won.

  8. I think the thing that’s really starting to bother me about this particular primary–and it’s not necessarily the fault of the campaigns, it might be the activists–is that we all seem to be determined to reinvent the wheel. At the end of the day, the Democratic Party of Virginia was founded on Mark Warner’s good name and Tim Kaine’s organization, but most frequently if you ever hear any reference to a Warner/Kaine legacy, it’s frequently in a context like this:

    “Brian has 12 years of experience getting Democrats elected all over Virginia and has been a large part of the progress we’ve made turning Virginia Blue. This makes Brian the only candidate who knows how to win all over Virginia and turn out the numbers we need in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to win the Governor’s race next November. For these and many other reasons, Brian Moran is clearly the best candidate to carry on the Warner/Kaine legacy and blaze a new trail of strong, progressive Democratic leadership.”
    ~Activist Todd Smyth of Franconia, VA, on Brian Moran’s grassroots endorsement page

    I’m not trying to pick on Todd Smyth or on Brian Moran. But I do think this sort of attitude exemplifies an emerging trend in the party — one where our party’s legacy of leadership isn’t about common-sense, solutions-oriented government, but where Democratic leadership simply means working to get other Democrats elected.

    I wonder if we’re about to lose our narrative.

  9. Hello Todd Smyth are you reading this? Because if you are let me tell you that you don’t know the difference between a primary and a general. You can’t fight a primary the way you fight a general.

  10. A few thoughts from the other side of the aisle:

    If you guys think you’re frustrated about watching Bob McDonnell race left, how do you think Republicans who saw Tim Kaine’s rise in Richmond felt watching him successfully pretend to be Mark Warner-lite in 2005?

    And speaking of 2005, I have a tough time believing that Kilgore’s accent didn’t play a part in him losing Loudoun and Prince William, and getting pounded by 23 points in Fairfax instead of at least holding serve. Win the exurbs and keep it competitive in Fairfax, and Kilgore could have won. Live by regional prejudices, die by regional prejudices.

  11. Alice, Virginia’s elections for statewide office are carried out as three separate campaigns, and the candidates are elected independently. They have separate campaign teams, separate fundraising, separate schedules, and separate strategies. Rarely does one candidate have much effect on any other. George Allen won in ’93 in a landslide. In the same election, Mike Farris lost handily to Don Beyer — in a very strong GOP atmosphere. Doug Wilder didn’t bring down Baliles because theirs were two distinct elections, and Baliles didn’t treat Wilder as a running mate.

    Waldo has this primary pegged. McAuliffe might win the nomination because of his money, and so many of the party faithful in NOVA adore him. But he’s not going to play well downstate the way Warner did. Warner spent years warming up to southwest and southside Virginia. As Larry Sabato put it after the 2001 election, Warner won because he “got in touch with his inner Bubba.”

    McAuliffe is, and will continue to be, seen as a carpet bagging fancy lad, and McDonnell will likely beat him without breaking a sweat. If the Democrats are smart enough to nominate Deeds, however, you just might hold the governor’s mansion for three consecutive terms.

    The pisser is that it’s Bob McDonnell. The guy is rushing to the left faster than Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cuddled up to Tim Kaine in 2006. He’s a far-right Republican who has suddenly started pretending to be a centrist

    You seem bothered by this, as if it’s a shocking development, or he’s the first candidate to do that. I certainly hope you’re honest enough to admit that Democrats do the same thing. They’ve certainly done so in every gubernatorial and presidential election in my lifetime. At this point, I just expect it from every candidate… though I’m pleasantly surprised when they don’t do it. Ronald Reagan, George Allen and Jim Gilmore are the only examples that immediately come to mind. They campaigned precisely according to their principles. I’d respect McDonnell more if he did the same, but in today’s political culture, I can’t totally fault him for campaigning as a centrist — especially since he knows the Democrat is going to.

  12. As I said in my earlier post, Wilder was elected Lt Gov in 1985. After Wilder won statewide as Lt Gov candidate, there was no basis to deny him the nomination for Gov in 1989. I share Dwayne Yancey’s view that the 1985 race was the more politically significant one.

    I, for one, am astonished at McAuliffe’s progress. I assumed that his candidacy would collapse as a joke. During his time as Chair of the DNC he did zippo to help us win elections here in Virginia. Gore could have won Virginia in 2000, and had he done so Florida would not have mattered and the world could have been spared a great deal of grief. I hold McAuliffe partly responsible for that. However, I don’t live in Virginia anymore and it is not for me to say.

    One of these guys is going to get nominated, so everyone needs a reconciliation strategy. You have to allow for the possibility that your candidate could win and begin to consider how you are going to win over the other guys supporters.

  13. I was in Danville Tuesday Night for the Debate. I guess part of that was to also film for the next McAuliffe Commercial as Well. Oh boy it was fun to watch.

    1st he is outside with the big banner greeting folks with people around him. Staffers as well. Cause i recognized one from an earlier event I had been to. Then another guy came out the back with a camera and went out there. Then they all were around him doing things like he was greeting them the they all walked in together making it look like they were all supporters. Hey a couple may have been or (paid extras). The fellow filming was following each step. He did come over to me and another fellow and shook our hands. Told us who he was. (DUH) Afterwards I thought about it. I should have told him dude I am supporting Moran or McDonnell, Deeds or something to see his reaction. But it was so quick. He shook the hand and said he was Terry McAuliffe. I guess just time enough to get that photo opt. If I show up in that commercial I am going to protest. cause i sure as heck don’t want to be in his commercial.

  14. McAuliffe might win the nomination because of his money, and so many of the party faithful in NOVA adore him. But he’s not going to play well downstate the way Warner did.

    On the first count, as a Democrat in NoVA I just want to say: what are these people thinking? I really can’t see anything to recommend the guy, and even if I could, I can’t see him doing better than losing by at least 12 points. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Virginia almost all my life and lots of NoVA Dems haven’t, but this guy is not a winner, even if you like him as a potential governor.

    In general, I think you’re absolutely right. Deeds has a good shot, and while I’m significantly to the left of him, I think he’s probably the best candidate because I think he actually represents a lot of things that a lot of Virginians can get behind, and he’s actually electable on top of that.

    Of course, thanks to McAuliffe making an ass of himself during the later days of the Clinton campaign, I’m guessing there are a lot of us beltway insider democrats who have a distaste for him, so hopefully he won’t take it.

  15. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Virginia almost all my life and lots of NoVA Dems haven’t,

    can we lose the idea that some of us are more Virginians than others?

  16. Alice,

    What are you talking about? It is a matter of fact that NoVA contains a lot of Democrats who came from other parts of the country. I don’t hold this against these people in any way. Furthermore, my statement was specifically in the context of me being confused about why people would find McAuliffe to be a credible candidate: maybe he looks more credible to people who haven’t grown up with Virginia politics, but to me, he doesn’t look like he can win.

    So… We can lose that idea that I wasn’t trying to bring up, yes.

  17. I think that’s a really interesting point that you bring up, Ben. There are a lot of folks, post-Obama, who are newly interested in politics. And, of course, there are lots of people who just haven’t lived in Virginia very long. Anybody who wasn’t around pre-Warner, for instance, likely doesn’t have much of a concept of Virginia’s political predispositions. Like you, I’m to the left of Creigh Deeds. Purely on the issues, I’d probably be a Moran or a McAuliffe man. But my experience tells me that McAuliffe can’t win, and that Brian Moran will have a harder time of it than Creigh Deeds. But to folks who aren’t from Virginia, or who don’t otherwise have that experience, I’m sure that they look at a guy like McAuliffe and think “great!”

    I’m not saying that the only people who support McAuliffe recently moved to Virginia, or are somehow ignorant of the realities of Virginia politics. Just that your theory does explain the level of support that he’s getting.

  18. Alice, a lot of newly settled Northern Virginia folk really don’t fully understand how different the rest of the state can be politically. Most haven’t ever been downstate, even to visit for just an afternoon, and they just don’t conceptualize it very accurately. Just like someone from Rockbridge Baths might tend to externalize and think that “most of Virginia” is like where they are, I think it’s probably equally true for someone who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and recently got a swank government contracting job and moved to Falls Church. They’re going to look around and think that Falls Church is an accurate representation of Virginia. I think that’s the point Ben’s trying to make – that the description of the recent Philly transplant ain’t him.

  19. For so, so, so many reasons I am outta here if McAuliffe gets the nomination. I will either write in ‘Mickey Mouse’ or vote for Bob McDonnell. Terry McAuliffe is not the Virginia Democratic party that I spent 8 or 9 years fighting for. He is the antithesis of everything I helped to build through those campaigns.

    I’m not alone by any means. If McAuliffe gets the nomination then this state party will crumble well below 50%. I don’t believe there is any constituency out there that is only going to vote Democratic if McAuliffe is on the ticket. Terry McAuliffe is a lose/lose proposition for us.

  20. McDonnell, Jackson, really? Good lord.


    I suspect that McAuliffe’s lead is attributable almost entirely to the “huh, I’ve heard that name on TV, and know he’s a Democrat” demographic. Both Deeds and Moran ought to spend less time beating on each other, and more time aiming at McAuliffe.

  21. Terry McAuliffe is the type of Democrat that George Allen and the Republicans used in the 1990s to get historically downstate Democrats to vote Republican.

  22. George Allen beat Mary Sue Terry in 1993, a Conservative Democratic from Patrick County who had won 2 statewide races as AG. Allen then Beat Robb, the man who revived Virginia Democrats in 1981 and went on to win 2 Senate races.

    I used to live in Richmond. I know who obnoxious Nova can be, but truly, live by regional prejudice, die by regional prejudice.

  23. Mary Sue Terry may have been badged as a conservative Dem in her play book, but in the public debate she was labeled as a confirmed bachlorette, and never explained how the two worked together. As to Chuck Robb there was …Tai Collins. For Terry McAuliffe we will be hearing more about his fortunes and how he got them. Hint: It was the last financial industry rip-off and it has plenty of contemporary relevance.

  24. Bubby – as someone who has never married, I resent that. I am guessing that I am not alone.

    Maybe Marry Sue Terry lost the same way Hillary Clinton lost, she accepted conventional wisdom and conventional wisdom was stupid.

  25. Maybe Marry Sue Terry lost the same way Hillary Clinton lost, she accepted conventional wisdom and conventional wisdom was stupid.

    And what conventional wisdom was that?

Comments are closed.