Saxman: Oscars, the Heisman, and Big Political Endorsements

Politics is everywhere and all the time. Most of it’s negative, but endorsements are positive. They add voters.

Virginia’s statewide race – right now – looks like it’s going to be very close.

Virginia has 5.975 million registered voters. Eight years ago it was 5.240 million. That’s a 735k increase.

Here’s a breakdown by turnout and a hypothetical 2pt/2person race:

43% turnout – 2.569 million votes at 51-49 that’s 1.310 to 1.258 or a 51,639 vote difference.

44% turnout – 2.629 million votes at 51-49 that’s 1.340 to 1.288 or a 52,580 vote difference.

45% turnout – 2.688 million votes at 51-49 that’s 1.370 to 1317 or a 53,760 vote difference.

With the final 10% undecided voters coming in around 270k voters at 45% turnout, a 60-40 split gets you up to a 54k net margin.

A 2 to 1 margin from undecided/independent voters nets up to 90k votes.

What endorsements matter to those potentially election deciding voters?

Do political endorsements make a difference anymore?

Sure, they can be a big newsworthy deal – but do they matter? Do they move enough votes to win?

Yes and Virginia is about to find out just how much.

Some perspective first.

The top award in the NCAA’s college football is the Heisman Trophy. It’s a big deal – in college football. It used to be bigger deal.

There have been 86 recipients, but only 9 (9.5%) have made it to the NFL Hall of Fame; however, there are 17 players who weren’t even good enough to be drafted out of college who are now enshrined in the HOF in Canton, Ohio.

Sunday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held its famous Academy Awards in which winners receive the Oscar. It’s a big deal – in Hollywood. It, too, used to be a bigger deal. The Oscars used to go to movies that people actually watched.

Two weeks ago, HBO’s Bill Maher said this year the awards program should be named The Debbies instead of The Oscars because all the nominees were such Debbie Downers. Funny and brutal take down ending with “If your movie is so woke, how come I’m falling asleep?”

I offer these two perspectives as Virginia spring transitions from pollen to political endorsements prior to the parties picking their nominees.

Sometimes, the validating endorsers get it wrong or it just doesn’t matter. Citizen Kane, The Shawshank Redemption, and It’s A Wonderful Life after all didn’t win Oscars for best picture. Here’s a fun list that looks back at winners and losers.

In politics – however – it can be make or break especially in our culture of constant information overload. How do voters sift through it all? Endorsements help.

Endorsements stick. They cut through all the noise and hype and attacks and petty crap. They simply stand out. Remember the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval? Endorsements are used in campaign ads, mail pieces, and social media placements. They matter – the bigger, the better.

The big winner over the weekend was Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, Prince William Delegate Hala Ayala. She picked up endorsements from Governor Ralph Northam, Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. Richmond Times Dispatch coverage here.

I was impressed with Ayala back in 2017 during her Virginia FREE interview when she first ran for the House. I thought that she would do well in her upset bid against Rich Anderson because she had positive energy and was engaging. She won that race and the 2019 rematch. Anderson is now the Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.

This year, Ayala has placed herself in a more centrist, pro-business lane than many of her opponents for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor. According to “a source close to Northam” that he says of Ayala that she’s the:

most aligned with him ideologically and who made the most sense for the ticket.

Northam has also endorsed Delegate Jay Jones in his upset bid to be the Democratic nominee for Attorney General over two term incumbent Mark Herring.

There is no question that Ralph Northam has rebuilt his brand within the Democratic Party in Virginia, but does it move votes? It’s one thing to say he’s done a good job during the pandemic or on racial justice issues, but it’s quite another to suggest his endorsement will move votes. More than anything it will likely move money which will move votes.

So, YES – Northam’s endorsement is going to move votes.

Remember the Jim Clyburn endorsement of Joe Biden in 2020? Now THAT was a big effin deal as it turned around Biden’s moribund campaign propelling him to the nomination.

Or how about the Washington Post endorsement of State Senator Creigh Deeds in his 2009 gubernatorial contest against Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran? THAT was a doozy, too. Just three weeks out of the election, that endorsement catapulted Deeds to the nomination.

The big loser over the weekend was State Senator Amanda Chase who travelled to Florida in hopes of getting the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Chase had made it known that she had a meeting set with Trump on Saturday at Mar-a-Lago and that she was going to ask for his endorsement.

Shortly after Chase’s pronouncement, we reported that – no – in fact, Chase never had a meeting set with Trump and that he probably would not be endorsing in the Republican nomination contest for governor. We have become so anesthetized to Chase’s lying that it’s barely noticed anymore. She’s gone from doozies to snoozies.

Apparently, Chase got in the room with the Donald. She even got a picture of him – just not with him. Chase is telling a story that she got a “fist bump” from Trump which is actually more like getting a Desmond Howard Heisman pose in 1991.

Nice stiff arm from the Donald keeping Amanda Chase politically distant.

Delegate Kirk Cox picked up big endorsements in his bid for governor from former Governors George Allen and Bob McDonnell. Those could help make the difference in the Ranked Choice Voting Unassembled Convention if Republican delegates can be made to recall not only winning statewide campaigns from the 1990s, but perhaps more importantly their majority building issues like crime, taxes, and education.

It’s clearly better to receive the endorsement of leading elected and party officials than to not receive them.

But what will the impact be in the nation’s first bellwether ballot? For Democrats these big endorsements will likely move more voters than they will for Republicans.

For Democrats, the endorsement of Hala Ayala by Northam, Filler-Corn, and Herring was massive because there are so many candidates and so many undecideds voters in the LG race. Ayala should become the front runner BUT like every other election, candidates and campaigns still have to do the work it takes to win. There are just 43 days until Primary Day and Democratic voters have been well trained to vote early. Early voting started Friday.

In the Attorney General’s race, Northam’s endorsement of Jay Jones was stunning and validated my call that this is an Upset Alert Special. Even if Jones loses, Northam will have been seen as helping Jones close the 42-3 poll in February to 42-18 in just two months. For now, Ralph Northam has shown serious juju in moving the polling numbers. Herring just went up on television.

Terry McAuliffe avoided disaster in earning Northam’s endorsement. It was welcome and expected news for sure; however, McAuliffe has the resources to have withstood a Northam endorsement of either Jennifer McClellan or Jennifer Carroll Foy. If anything, Northam’s endorsement probably saved T-Mac around $2-3MM dollars.

On the Republican side, the only needle moving endorsement is Donald Trump’s. It’s unlikely that he will weigh in on the Republican nominations given the format, but you never know.

Trump’s endorsement is still a really really big deal for Republicans. Note this from BIPAC about Arizona:

WPA Intelligence conducted the Club for Growth 2022 poll during the April 5-6 period of 505 likely Republican primary voters via live interview. They tested Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) against Gov. Doug Ducey. The results found the Congressman holding a 46-45% lead over the Governor and, in what seems to be a clear indication that base Republican voters still follow ex-President Donald Trump’s lead, the margin swells to 59-32% if the latter man endorses Rep. Biggs.

There have been an eye-popping 47,000 delegate pre-files submitted for the Republican Convention but that number could attrition down anywhere from 15% to 60%. We just don’t know by how much at this point.

Cox’s endorsements will matter to those who value experience while fondly remembering Governors Allen and McDonnell especially in the Ranked Choice Voting. Thirty year incumbents are not going to fire up crowds like new candidates, but they can win the crucial second and third place voting with a steady, reliable, and likable narrative. Cox checks all those boxes and winning is a good narrative for a team suffering a long losing streak. Remember winning? Cox, Allen, and McDonnell do.

Pete Snyder has gotten solid support from Trump surrogates – Sarah Huckabee Sanders, etc… as well as from stalwart conservatives who headed up the 2013 GOP ticket in former AG Ken Cuccinelli and state Senator Mark Obenshain. Those are great validators when all the candidates are try to outgun (swidt?) each other with their conservative credentials, but so much has changed since the arrival of Donald Trump that it’s hard to qualify the new quantity. Those endorsements help – a lot – but might hurt in the general where 45’s brand topped out at 44% in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Glenn Youngkin is the newest and freshest of the top three candidates. As such, he’s going to be behind in the endorsement race just due to lack of time in developing relationships. That didn’t stop him, however, from earning the endorsement of The Middle Resolution PAC a Hanover based conservative PAC which usually has more buck than bang when it comes to moving voters. It’s nowhere near the NRA endorsement for the Republican base, but it usually comes with important financial resources and again – validation. Youngkin doesn’t need the money, but he definitely needed some conservative credentialing as a new candidate. Middle Resolution brings that.

Remember, other than McAuliffe, all the candidates started out with very, very low name ID so endorsements help boost that. Higher name ID = better polling and better polling yields more money. Rinse and repeat.

Even with a good name ID, McAuliffe sought endorsements early – if you recall from last week’s newsletter – as even he had to reintroduce himself to the base of his party and that’s after leaving office with an approval rating among Democrats in the upper 80s. His fave/unfave among Democrats had atrophied to 25 – 21 in February.

All of that said – yes, Virginia, there are endorsements that matter.

Now more than ever.

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