The Curious Case of the 2008 Senate Race

When examining the present Senate race here in Virginia, there are two factors that one should keep in mind:  the events leading up to and including the Republican convention, and results since that time.  For those who attended the convention or keep up with party politics, most of this information will be redundant for you, but I hope to bring others who have not followed as closely up to speed.

In the end, the fight over the Republican nomination was very heated and very close.  Initially, it was shaping up to be a showdown between Rep. Tom Davis of Fairfax vs. Former Gov. Gilmore of Henrico County.  Davis was the liberal candidate and Gilmore was the conservative.  While Davis advocated a primary, Gilmore supported a convention.  When the state party voted to hold a convention, Davis withdrew from the race.  The reasoning was simple; conventions typically favor the more conservative candidate.  With Davis gone, Gilmore officially announced his intent on Nov. 19th of 2007.  For a little more than a month, Gilmore stood as the only Republican candidate.  Then, on Jan 7th of 2008, Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William County entered the fray.  Marshall’s challenge stood as a serious problem for Gilmore as he is more conservative on a number of issues.  One issue in particular was the issue of abortion.  While Gilmore supports allowing abortion in the first eight weeks, Marshall opposes abortion from minute one.  Time and time again a number of the party activists hammered Gilmore on this issue.  The question for Gilmore was, given that a more conservative challenger had arisen, and the nominee was going to be selected by a convention, how could he win?  The answer his campaign settled on was relevancy.  As Gilmore was a former governor, he had far more name recognition that a delegate (which is, of course, very true).  Until the last several days he approached the campaign as if he was already the nominee, hardly ever mentioning his opponent, instead choosing to contrast himself with Mark Warner.  He had already won they said, all that was needed was the vote to make it official.  Although, of course, I supported Marshall, as a delegate to the convention I was insulted by the insinuation that my vote didn’t matter, that it was more of a coronation than an election.  I understand that if Gilmore got everyone to believe that his win was inevitable then no one would oppose him, but it produced the opposite effect in me.  In the last several days, the fight got quite ugly as accusations and names were thrown around.  In the end, although the vote was extremely close, Gilmore won by about sixty-five votes out of the over ten thousand cast. Borrowing someone else’s terminology, David nearly slew Goliath, but fell painfully short.

Now that Jim Gilmore is the GOP nominee, he finds himself in a similar position in which he placed Bob Marshall, fending off the supposed coronation of Mark Warner.  Prior to the convention many delegates supported Gilmore, not because of his political positions, but because they claimed he had a better chance of Mark Warner.  Now, although I could find no polling data pitting Marshall and Warner, the data of Gilmore vs. Warner was grim.  Prior to the convention, Rasmussen Reports charted the match up from Oct. 30, 2007 to May 5, 2008.  During that time frame, Gilmore was favored by 37% to 39% of likely voters, while 53% to 57% supported Warner.  If Gilmore was indeed our best hope as those delegates claimed, our hope was very small indeed.  In fact Rasmussen estimated Gilmore had a 15% chance of victory.  15%!  Who can be happy with those odds?  Even worse was the fact that 42% of those polled had a negative opinion of Gilmore.  The news gets ever worse.  In the latest poll of June 16th, Warner now leads Gilmore 60% to 33%.  We are headed in the wrong direction!  They now say that Warner has a 90% chance to win.

How did we get in this situation?  The answer has several parts.  The first is our President, George W. Bush.  Regardless if you like him or hate him, you should recognize his approval rating hovers at about 30%.  Two key issues here are the war and the economy.  Most voters now feel the war in Iraq was a mistake and that our economy is either in a recession or headed in that direction.  Fair or unfair, these opinions reflect poorly on Bush and thus reflect poorly on the party of Bush, the Republicans.  To the best of my knowledge, former Governor Gilmore has not distanced himself much from the President and thus will be viewed as a continuation of many of Bush’s policies, which means that a number of voters’ dislike is based simply on association.  Second, it is a proven fact that a party who controls the White House usually loses seats in Congress (must be that whole divided government ideal thing).  Third is the public perception of Gilmore and Warner.  Although very incorrect and unfair in my mind, many voters blame Gilmore for the financial turmoil suffered in the Commonwealth during his later days in office and the early days of Mark Warner.  One can see a similar parallel between Hoover and FDR.  People blamed the depression on Hoover and credited the recovery to Roosevelt even though facts of the matter spoke otherwise.  Fourth, as a result of his “brilliant leadership” as governor, Mark Warner enjoys the highest popularity of any Democrat in the state.  Fifth, to the best of my knowledge, after winning the GOP nomination in late May, Gilmore has made no efforts to reach out to Marshall supporters to tie the base back together.  He needs each and every vote possible to have a chance against Warner.  Sixth, although money isn’t everything, so far Mark Warner has raised far and away more money than Gilmore.  Unless Gilmore closes this gap quickly, we will see fewer ads, less signs, and an overall weaker campaign.

So, I suppose the question is, after fending off a spirited assault from the Marshall supporters, does Jim Gilmore have the ability to beat Mark Warner?  I certainly hope that he does, but every day that passes further fills me with concern.  Unless Gov. Gilmore and his campaign quickly and effectively address the numerous issues I mention above, the chance of success looks bleak.  Although the road ahead is very difficult, we can and must win.  We need to all work together.  To those who supported Gilmore at the convention, where are you now?  You said then that he had the best chance at victory.  So now you, above all others, must back up your claims and help the former Governor win!  We cannot afford another Democratic senator (and one far more liberal than Senator Webb).  Go Jim Gilmore!  Beat Mark Warner!

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