As stated in Part II of this series, in the 93rd, we had opposition from a number of sources. Not only did we have to contend with the Robin Abbott campaign, but also were attacked by the Democratic Party of Virginia, various interest groups, and Steve Shannon. However, the focus of this piece will be the Robin Abbott campaign. On October 28, Not Larry Sabato wrote, “Robin Abbott has run a great campaign, and Phil Hamilton is going to jail no matter what the result of this election is.” I don’t know how involved and informed he was about that race, but I completely disagree. As far as I could tell, the Robin Abbott campaign was not well run. Now I know the temptation to apply the lens of the victor to this situation; the Abbott campaign won so it must have been well run, but having a good deal of first hand experience, I would beg to differ.
First of all, it was difficult to determine what was the central message the Robin Abbott campaign hoped to convey to the voters. Other than her life story, which I heard multiple times in debates, campaign literature, and at rallies, they never seems to latch onto a key issue or position. Given the ODU situation, obviously ethics reform would be fertile ground, and although it did come up from time to time, it was certainly not an overriding theme. The Abbott campaign did bring up the issues of transportation, health care, and education; however for each issue they were unable to best Delegate Phil Hamilton.
Now consider the debates. During the final months of the campaign Phil Hamilton and Robin Abbott were slated for a series of five debates or forums, four in Newport News and one in Williamsburg. Unfortunately for the Abbott campaign, Phil Hamilton is a polished and professional debater who is well versed in just about every issue facing the state and community. Below, in two segments, you will find the first twenty minutes of the League of Women Voters debate in Williamsburg on 10/14/09. I wish I could have provided the entire debate, however my camera ran out of memory. While Phil Hamilton offered clear examples of his work in the legislature and his plans for the future, Robin Abbott was more general and vague.
Although there were two more debates scheduled after the Williamsburg debate, one with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the other at Robin Abbott’s alma mater of CNU, both the candidate and the campaign failed to appear. Even though losing a debate is unquestionably detrimental to the campaign, I think an even greater failure is to not even show up. The debate organizers obviously spent considerable effort in creating, moderating, and publicizing the event. How disrespectful is it to them and their time? Fortunately for the Abbott campaign, the local media didn’t call foul on them.
What about coordination between the Abbott campaign and other related efforts? While going door-to-door, it was a very rare occurrence to find Abbott literature with either Deeds or Democratic ticket information. But why wouldn’t they work together? It is a democratic favored district. After all, Barack Obama won the 93rd district by a convincing margin losing only the precincts of Watkins in Newport News and Roberts B in James City County. Although the numbers are not precise, if we ignore absentee ballots and include all of the Lee Hall precinct, Obama won 17735 to McCain’s 10838. Now maybe you would argue that Deeds was a weak candidate (which he certainly was). Even still, if Democratic volunteers and staff delivered both Abbott and top ticket lit together, think of the time that they could save. Think of how many more houses they could cover. Even though they shared office space in city center, they apparently didn’t combine efforts. Compare this decision with the Hamilton/RPV campaign. Except for the brief period of troubles, the Hamilton campaign handed out McDonnell materials and the RPV did likewise. Does that mean the two campaigns were joined at the hip? Certainly not…it just made commonsense to work together for the betterment of both. Even though I’m sure that seeing Hamilton lit together with McDonnell lit may have cost a vote or two to one side or the other, I’d easily wager that it garnered far more benefit to both.
From what I both heard and witnessed, the Abbot campaign struggled for volunteers throughout the season. I offer the following pictures for an example. The first two are from the Denbigh day parade of September 19.
The parade of white shirts are folks dressed in Phil Hamilton for Delegate attire. Now compare that number to the Abbott supporters in the next picture.
The simple truth is that few people were truly excited about the Abbott campaign. Rumor has it that they had to pay people to go door to door for them. The next picture is of the Newport News Fall Festival of 10/4/2009, one month before the election. Beside our Republican tent sat the Democrats. Throughout most of the festival, their tent was empty. No one was there to handout information, yard signs, or the like. You could feel the electricity in the air!
For the reasons of no coherent campaign message, a series of lackluster and no-show debates, poor coordination, and low volunteer recruitment, is why I believe the Abbott campaign was not well run. Now maybe I’m completely wrong about my assessment. Several weeks ago I sent an email to Delegate-elect Abbott offering her the opportunity to talk about the campaign on this website. As of this posting, I have gotten no reply. If that changes, I’ll let you know.