Don’t Piss Off the Grassroots

You know, it sounds pretty simple.

Voters vote. Get them to the polls. Grassroots help identify and contact voters, use them, coddle them and work with them.

You’re going to trust your neighbor, your friend, the person who cuts your hair, etc. far more than a direct mail piece, a robo-call, or television ad.

Eric Cantor spent $3 million directly for his campaign. You can be sure the majority of that went to mail pieces, television ads, and absurd consultants fees. Voter contact was a national operation, not a local one. Then there was this:

But Eric Cantor, or more importantly for tonight’s results, his consulting team, led by Ray Allen, make a critical error in the aftermath of Ken Cuccinelli’s defeat last year:

They were going to take back the Republican Party. Grassroots be damned.

This wasn’t Establishment v Tea Party, not originally, no sir. This was ‘mainstream conservatives’ getting together and taking back their party, the party of the right.

You may have heard of the YG, Young Guns. In the past six months, we’ve heard a lot more about them. Originally, Young Guns was created to identify and support young Republican leaders around the country in their candidacies for elected offices, with financial and logistical support. The founder of Young Guns? Eric Cantor.

But somehow, YG bastardized itself, and this year decided to use it’s political and financial clout in Virginia to begin a systematic takeover of Republican offices. The idea was to seize control of the Republican State Central Committee, control that was lost when the Ray Allen and Boyd Marcus-led Bill Bolling campaign was blindsided by grassroots supporters who took legitimate control of State Central two years ago. That sea change then quickly overturned the absurdly early primary decision forced by Allen and Marcus, designed to benefit Bolling (earlier, George Allen), but backlashed and resulted in losing their majority on the committee.

Conventions vs Primaries took the stage, with both sides angling for talking points, leverage and in some drastic (and overreactive/wrong/ill-thoughout) cases, legislative measures to abolish conventions. In the midst of all of this, city and county mass meetings were being prepared to set up for the District conventions in April and May, where District Chairs, Officers, including State Central members would elected.

So Marcus sells out to the embracing arms of Terry McAuliffe, leaving Ray Allen and the Young Guns, YG (now in Allen’s control) to wrestle back the Republican Party. They scour the Party Plan and utilize a little-used tactic to springboard themselves back to power.

Slating.

Take it away, then-blogger, now RPV Executive Director, Shaun Kenney:

For those unfamiliar with this, here’s how slating works. 200 people show up at a mass meeting as potential delegates for 100 seats at a convention. One side rises and reads off a list of names — a slate — and the majority then elects those individuals as the only ones who can go to the convention. As you can see, if one side in particular chose to slate their convention delegates, that candidate would then receive 100% of the votes for that locality, rather than a proportional number of votes based on actual numbers at the mass meeting.

That article, appropriately titled ‘Slating is Evil’, was in response to the revelation of the game plan for YG-backed candidates, at the direction of YG, by extension, Ray Allen and his consultants.

Virginia Beach, which would prove to be YG/Ray Allen (and by extension, Eric Cantor)’s high-water mark, nearly 1,000 delegates were ambushed with a slating motion. Rumors had been floating about it happening, but disenfranchising average citizens, many of whom do not follow, play or give a rat’s ass about inside baseball procedurals such as slating requirements, were dumbfounded and confused. Despite numerous objections, questionable counting, and utter confusion from most delegates, the YG backed State Senator Frank Wagner prevailed, disenfranchising nearly 99% of the people in the room, choosing a pre-picked 32 to represent the 99%’s ‘interests.’

The grassroots HOWLED with indignation. Ray Allen and YG consultant Rob Catron had staged a coup, a master stroke, or at least it seemed that way at the time. With 32 pre-picked people representing Virginia Beach at the 2nd District Convention, 60+% of the entire District vote was in the bag, and with it, the 2nd District Chairman’s position and crucial State Central positions. Supporters for slating crowed, with nonsensical quips like, ‘don’t play the game then complain about the rules’, or “Last time I checked politics wasn’t the local garden club.” (sorry Lee). More than half of attendees had no idea what had just happened, that their elected officials and party leaders had just snatched their vote away.

That YG, Allen and Catron were linked to Eric Cantor was never in doubt. But while there were mild rumblings and grumblings about Cantor prior to the Virginia Beach slating fiasco, this was an the first shot in the ‘war on grassroots’ by YG, and so far as the grassroots were concerned, this was a declaration of war by Cantor. Whether or not Cantor had anything to do with it is a point of debate, yet by extension of the actions of his consultants, Eric Cantor was now even more of a target.

The stage was next set in Henrico County mass meeting, a Cantor stronghold, where interests in the 3rd and 7th Districts would be decided. In response to YG’s actions in Virginia Beach, Fred Gruber, Linwood Cobb & Chris Stearns raced to line up Henrico delegates for the meeting. In a tense and close vote, a slating motion was narrowly defeated, preserving the voting rights for every delegate in Henrico.

Close call, but no harm, no foul, right?

Except when Pat Mullins publicly repudiated the practice of slating in his home county, Louisa, Linwood Cobb, who had clearly supported and whipped votes for slating earlier for 7th District Henrico, astoundingly claimed in public response, that no delegate in the 7th was slated off.

The grassroots HOWLED, again. Cobb was quickly called out repeatedly by Henrico delegates, that the only reason slating had not occurred was in spite of Cobb, rather than because of. The Henrico mass meeting was one of the final nails in the coffin of Cobb’s tenure as Chair, and staunch Cantor supporter. The signs were there in May, at the 7th District Convention. With a fully seated group of delegates, Cobb was ousted as Chair, and Cantor was roundly booed throughout his speech.

And Virginia Beach? Well the 2nd District Executive Committee voted to overturn the slating decision, seating all delegates. With a full complement of attendees, Curtis Colgate defeated YG-backed Wagner, in a close call, but another defeat to YG. For all the planning, there nothing left to show for it.

Tonight, YG’s benefactor and founder met a politically untimely end. By the end of the County mass meetings and district conventions, the actions of YG, Allen and again, by extension Cantor, were indefensible. The tactics used, brazenly and in bullying fashion, thoroughly agitated and riled the grassroots. Efforts had been made for years to primary and move Cantor out of office, efforts that fell flat; Cantor won a primary with more than 80% of the vote in 2012.

But in the aftermath of 2013, the game changed. Rather than being defensive, Cantor-backed allies went on the offensive, with plans to take back control of the Republican Party of Virginia. Those maneuvers set in motion a series of events that would unite the grassroots while slating supporters fell quietly by the wayside. YG’s plans backfired spectacularly, with defeats in multiple District Chairman’s races, which are minimal in comparison to what is by far the biggest blow, the first primary loss for a sitting House Majority Leader, ever.

YG target and 3rd District Chairman summed up his thoughts on tonight’s race:

So yes, amnesty/immigration, aversion to the shutdown, Tea Party, throw pretty much any excuse at the wall and you’re going to probably get at least a little credit for correct analysis in this political stunner. But after the way last six months have played out, back and forth, I think one takeaway deserves to be mentioned first:

Don’t piss off the grassroots.