Former DPVA Chairman Paul Goldman On Wilder Non-Endorsement

Paul Goldman, former DPVA chair and campaign manager for Doug Wilder’s 1989 run for Governor, call’s Wilder’s statement “to be of particular trouble for Creigh Deeds”:

The failure of former Governor Wilder to endorse Mr. Deeds is one thing: the statement Mr. Wilder issued to justify explain it quite another.

Wilder didn’t just non-endorse, he rallied against Deeds with his statement.

Paul Goldman’s entire statement:

Having helped convince Doug Wilder to back Mark Warner and then, after what seemed an eternity of talk, Tim Kaine, I find the reasoning of his statement to be of particular trouble for Creigh Deeds, far more than the non-endorsement. Not since Harry Byrd employed his legendary Golden Silence has a public non-endorsement potentially been so important.

All of which raises three political questions:

One:  Why did former Governor Wilder decide to basically stick a finger in the eye of the President and the Governor, indeed issue a statement which blasted “‘Democrats who lead our party” for backing Mr. Deeds’, who wants to repeal the state’s one-gun-a-month law? Mr. Wilder labels such support for Mr. Deeds’ by Democratic leaders, indeed their silence on the Deeds gun position as “puzzling and inexplicable.”  I say this because Mr. McDonnell likewise supports repeal, after voting for the law when first proposed by then Governor Wilder.

Why pick that issue to go after the Democratic Party leadership when you could have said the same thing about Republican leaders to be consistent? I suppose his answer would be: that’s the reason I didn’t back McDonnell since he and the GOP hopeful agree on the tax issue. The gun issue is thus the anchor of the non-endorsement of anyone.  But it is still puzzling, to use Mr. Wilder’s word.

Two:  Wilder’s reasoning for opposing the Gas Tax couldn’t have been better for McDonnell nor worse for Deeds. As a State Senator, Wilder backed the very Gas Tax he now says hurts the poor. However, it is true that ever since he began running for Lt. Governor, he has consistently, and at times at great risk to his political future, opposed sales taxes and gas taxes as regressive and working a hardship on the poor. It is worth noting here that when Mark Warner introduced his tax package which included a big hike in the sales tax, it also included a plank to help reduce the income tax on certain low income families.

I had assumed that the Deeds’ campaign, given the way they have positioned themselves on the Warner tax package, likewise had a similar policy mix in mind, although it is true that Baliles didn’t have one. Wilder’s statement, and the angle of attack he took against the Gas Tax, now puts Deeds in a very tough spot regard because Wilder has hit a political nerve: Mr. Deeds has not laid out the actual details of what he wants to see in a Gas Tax deal, instead doing what Governor Baliles did, leave the initial package development to a Blue Ribbon Commission.

Long story short: Wilder’s statement on the gas tax raises some potentially big political problems for the Deeds campaign, and it will be interesting to see how they deal with it. But address it they must.

Three:  Why did Wilder issue such a long and detailed statement Today?

Presumably the timing was his choice and his choice alone. But are we missing something? Moreover, Wilder knows that his statement, in an edited form, can be shaped into a potentially very effective direct mail piece by the McDonnell campaign.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the political power of endorsements. But as the saying goes, ideas have the real power in politics. Wilder has issued potentially the most powerful non-endorsement in the history of Virginia politics. In the days of the Golden Silence, Harry Byrd’s public non-endorsement determined who carried the state’s electoral votes.

Wilder has thus turned the Byrd approach on it’s head, for this is anything but a Golden Silence, yet it is still technically a non-endorsement.

Still, I am puzzled as why go after the President, the Governor and others for supporting Deeds because of the gun issue. Wilder has supported any number of candidates who didn’t agree with him on all the issues, although admittedly one-gun-a-month is not just any issue. And it is true that Baliles, Warner and Kaine promised not to raise taxes, we wrote about that earlier.

BOTTOM LINE: The failure of former Governor Wilder to endorse Mr. Deeds is one thing: the statement Mr. Wilder issued to justify explain it quite another.

Of the two, the statement, not the non-endorsement, is something the Deeds campaign will have to address, or it could bleed votes from the Democratic gubernatorial candidate all the way to election day.