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Saxman: Virginia Democratic Nomination for Governor

Find a good recipe and stick with it.

That’s the key to cooking and also the key to winning elections.

A great dish is just a good recipe with better ingredients, solid techniques, and a well executed plan.

Political campaigns follow a similar path toward eventual consumption.

Virginia Democrats are just fifty – five zero – days from their primary and former Governor Terry McAuliffe is clearly in command of this race.

I could use some hyperbole to make the point about McAuliffe’s likelihood of winning, but this bread is baked. This is McAuliffe’s third statewide campaign for governor. He’s a grinder and he will win.

One hundred and ten days ago (December 30, 2020) – State Senator Jennifer McClellan released an “internal” poll from her campaign. Here were the results:

  1. Undecided 38
  2. Terry McAuliffe 32
  3. Justin Fairfax 16
  4. Jennifer McClellan 8
  5. Jennifer Carroll Foy 5

McClellan’s pollster Pete Brodnitz noted that the numbers correlated with Name ID adding:

“… by a 63%-29% margin, the primary electorate said that they ‘benefit more from having the new perspective that one of the women would bring.’ “


“For me, the main thing is that you have such a big undecided – there are more people undecided than who are selecting Terry – despite the fact that he’s universally known.”

Since that poll was released, the numbers have moved. Here are the new polling numbers out last week from PPP as reported in Blue Virginia. [1] This poll was likely primary voters.

  1. Terry McAuliffe 42 (+10)
  2. Undecided 29 (-9)
  3. Jennifer McClellan 8 (0)
  4. Jennifer Carrol Foy 8 (+3)
  5. Justin Fairfax 7 (-9)
  6. Lee Carter 5 (+5)

McAuliffe has a six million dollar COH advantage over Carroll Foy who has $2.3MM COH while McClellan has just under 500k. Moreover, and perhaps more impressively, former Governor McAuliffe had almost 8000 donors under $100 whereas McClellan and Carrol Foy had just 6000 combined donors under $100.

Even if the four candidates challenging McAuliffe were to have their polling numbers combined, they would still trail a well financed former governor by 13 points while being basically tied with Undecided seven weeks out. Not to mention the fact that they would be behind in fundraising by $5.5MM.

So, even if the Undecideds break 2 to 1 for the challenger(s), they would still lose by five. Since there are four challenger candidates, McAuliffe probably gets over 50% at this point which is a pretty good benchmark test to see how strong he will be in the general.

One has to question the level of enthusiasm given the fact that a successful, generally well regarded former governor drew four primary opponents; however, that has not gotten in the way of McAuliffe’s fundraising.

Here’s a trivia question for you – how many opponents did Terry McAuliffe have for the nomination in 2013? ZERO.

Reminder – voting starts on September 18th.

Key points and questions leading up to that include:

  1. What will the turnout be for the Democrats on June 8th? There are many primary challenges to House Democratic incumbents which might bump the numbers, but that is the first test for general – enthusiasm in post Trump Virginia. If the turnout is lower than hoped for by McAuliffe, will he pivot to more moderate, suburban voters?
  2. McAuliffe beat Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2013 by just 56k votes even though he out raised his opponent almost 2 to 1. That same election, Democrat Mark Herring beat Republican Mark Obenshain by just 165 votes to become Attorney General. Will Republicans unite behind their nominee or will they create a third candidate lane that Robert Sarvis filled in ‘13 winning over 146k votes?
  3. McAuliffe finished fourth in total votes in 2013 behind Ralph Northam at 1.213 million and Herring/Obenshain’s 1.103 million to his 1.069 million. Will the GOP nominate a gubernatorial candidate who appeals to enough suburban and business oriented voters to win? Those last 200k voters REALLY matter.
  4. Ted Cruz was largely credited with shutting down the federal government around Labor Day in 2013. That had a big impact on Cuccinelli’s polling and thwarted national campaign funding down the stretch as a direct result. He was outside the Margin of Error (MOE). Also that year, the new Obamacare website crashed in October nearly giving Cuccinelli the final push he needed to pull off the comeback. Question – will there be unforeseeable events at the federal level that impact turnout and for which party?
  5. 2013’s victory for Terry McAuliffe also produced 67 House Republicans. Today, the Democrats have 55 seats to the GOP’s 45. How much does the late cycle redistricting factor into control of the House if Virginia voters perform as they did before 2016?

There are less than 200 (197) days until Election Day in November and 152 days until general election voting starts. Democrats will spend the next 50 days fighting with each other while giving their hungry opponents a 30 day head start since the GOP nominates its statewide ticket on May 8th.

Throw in some long overdue summer vacations … and then according to a national GOP leader privy to an array of polling (which is backed up by recent Democratic ads here) where there is “a shift starting to happen among suburban voters over education and the economy”… and then who knows what at the federal level … and then the big question Mark Rozell asked in the Washington Post over the weekend, Did Virginia’s Democrats misread their mandate with a boldly progressive agenda? [2] (Or perhaps more importantly – does anyone really give a damn since politics is about the future?)

Add all that up?

That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, it sounds more like a recipe for disaster.

Paul Hollywood knows how to describe bad baking outcomes.