Kaine VP Selection Could Throw Virginia Politics Into Turmoil
If you thought 2016 was crazy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Things are about to get real.
With Hillary Clinton’s choice of Senator Tim Kaine as her Vice Presidential running mate, politics in the Old Dominion is on the verge of being thrown for a loop heading into the 2017 season. With an additional statewide slot, and the potential for a ripple effect if that statewide slot is filled – temporarily or via the 2017 special election – with another office holder, we could see a serious shake up in the ranks of elected office holders in Virginia next year.
Even the prospects of a potential vacancy will be changing the electoral calculus for a variety of current and potential statewide candidates. If Clinton and Kaine are successful in defeating GOP nominee Donald Trump and Indiana Governor Mike Pence in November, the potential impacts are widespread and immediate, with Governor McAuliffe having the power to appoint a temporary replacement until a special election can be held in November 2017, concurrent with the three statewide races that fall.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Kaine is elected, here’s the potential fallout. First, Governor McAuliffe gets to appoint a temporary replacement. Virginia law is clear that the Governor, when faced with a vacancy in the Senate seat, will issue a writ of election for the next November General election, and in the meantime may appoint a temporary Senator to hold the office until that special election.
There are a variety of philosophies about the use of an interim appointment. Some argue that the Governor will resign and allow Ralph Northam to name him the temporary Senator, with the intent that he will run for the seat in 2017, and the appointment would give him a leg up on possible opponents. This seems unlikely, however, given that McAuliffe has stressed that he has no desire to serve in a legislative capacity. Further, it’s unlikely that an appointment like that would give him an electoral boost in the special election 2017 – just the opposite, as the Senator will be expected to do his job and can’t be spending all his time in the Commonwealth campaigning. McAuliffe is more likely to end up as a Clinton cabinet secretary than as a U.S. Senator. It’s also more likely that he will choose a caretaker Senator who could fill the position and does not intend to run for reelection. This could be almost anyone, but usually it’s an elder statesman – someone like Doug Wilder – from among the Democratic party roster who could use the position as a cap stone to their career. Any senior Democrat who is nearing retirement from the General Assembly could be on this list.
In the meantime, Republicans and Democrats now have another statewide office to fill in 2017. This changes the political calculus for a large number of potential candidates who may be mulling over statewide campaigns in 2017 already. With three announced or all-but-announced Republicans for Governor (Ed Gillespie, Rob Wittman and Corey Stewart), a crowded Lieutenant Governor field (Jill Vogel, Glenn Davis and Bryce Reeves, with a half dozen others rumored), and three announced for the AG’s race (Rob Bell, John Adams and Chuck Smith), it’s entirely possible that one or more of those who’ve already thrown their hat into the ring for 2017 may switch races to the Senate race. It’s also likely that some of those who are rumored to be considering an gubernatorial or LG run – Pete Snyder, Shak Hill, Ben Cline, among others – could choose to switch to the Senate race.
The Senate race also brings a number of potential Republicans who are not prepping for a statewide race into the picture. Ken Cuccinelli’s activity during the last few weeks, and his work with Ted Cruz and the Senate Majority Fund, seem to indicate a desire to get back into electoral politics, even if his behavior during the Presidential race has damaged his brand. His recent attack on Barbara Comstock could be an attempt to diminish a potential rising star in the party who would be a formidable contender for the Senate seat if she chose to run. At the same time, Virginia’s do-nothing darling, Congressman Dave Brat has made it clear that he would love to continue failing upwards and land in the U.S. Senate. Given how easy it is for Senators to do little more than bloviate while retaining their jobs, it’s easy to see why Dave Brat would want the Senate seat. It’s his dream job, the political equivalent of tenure in academia with a six year term to not have to worry about fundraising or doing much of anything besides grandstand. Further, there are senior General Assembly members who could take a look at the job, like Jimmie Massie. At least one General Assemblyman has run for the Senate before, although he lost in the primary.
And while I doubt sincerely that Delegate Taylor (who will likely be Congressman Taylor after November) wants to change jobs and run for yet another office, nothing would surprise me this cycle.
If one of the current Congressmen or another office holder does win, that sets up a potential for a special election House race in a Republican district, which will likely scramble a lot of people, inside and outside politics, running towards potential campaigns. A vacancy in Barbara Comstock’s seat, for instance, would likely trigger a shake-up of Northern Virginia politics that are hard to even begin to quantify at this point.
As for potential Democratic contenders, any of their current Congressional field – Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, and Don Beyer – could be potential candidates, although given Beyer’s age he could be a likely caretaker who chooses to end his storied career in the Senate. AG Mark Herring would also seem likely a likely potential choice in running for Senate instead of reelection. Any of the current potentials for the LG field on the Democratic side, including Justin Fairfax, Jennifer McClellan, Kenny Alexander, or any number of Northern Virginia Democrats, could decide to hop into the Senate race.
Finally, Republicans are going to do everything they possibly can to win a Senate special election – even more so than the other statewide races – because the implications are potentially much greater. If Republicans lose the White House in 2016, it’s almost impossible that they will not have lost the U.S. Senate at the same time. Getting another Republican Senator will be critical for stopping the Clinton Agenda, especially given the current and future possible Supreme Court vacancies. Thus the pressure on RPV’s State Central Committee to select a primary rather than a convention will be much higher than it is, even now. With the Senate on the line, the Virginia GOP cannot take the risk of another convention like 2013, that left us with a slate of candidates who were outside the mainstream of Virginia’s purple state politics and put us in the position of having no statewide elected Republicans for the first time in decades. Choosing a process that ensures the widest possible participation by Republicans – while having a likely low impact from Democratic crossover as they’ll have their own contested races to deal with – is the best way to ensure we have the needed harmony from the various parts of the party to win in November.
All of this is predicated, of course, on the Clinton/Kaine ticket winning in November. If that happens, 2017 is going to be a wild ride.