Virginia Governor’s Race 09

Who Put Adam Nagourney Up to His Thinly Sourced Article?

New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney has an article suggesting Virginia Democrats are regretting their choice of Creigh Deeds as their candidate for governor.  Nagourney’s analysis of Deeds’ poor campaign is accurate, but there are several problems with it.

1.  It is thinly sourced.  The only  source cited is Virginia political analyst Robert Holsworth.  Generally, Holsworth provides credible insight (though his blog posts are written in a weird one sentence per paragraph style that disjoint his thinking), but no one else is cited in the article.

2.  Maybe it is “hard not to forgive some Virginia Democrats for thinking that they might have been better off with Mr. McAuliffe at the top of the ticket,”  but Nagourney offers no one, quoted anonymously or even referenced, to support his contention.

3. Nagourney’s conclusion – for with no sources that’s all this article is – is ludicrous.  Whatever disabilities Deeds has -– and he is, at best, an ineffective, some might say bumbling, campaigner -– the idea that Terry McAuliffe, an abrasive interloper in the Commonwealth’s politics, could draw more votes than Deeds isn’t credible.  Would he excite Democrats more?  Yes, probably.  Would he have more money to spend?  Most definitely.  But would he get anything more than the most yellow dog Democrats outside of Northern Virginia to vote for him?  Absolutely not.  With Dems reminding everyone of their fecklessness on Capitol Hill and Obama appearing uncertain, weak and all hat and no cattle, the idea that McAuliffe could win the race is unsupported. Obama won Virginia.  Bill Clinton didn’t.  With McAuliffe’s ties to the Clintons, there is little chance he could win this year – or any year, really.

So the question is, who put Nagourney up to this article?  In it, he states that McAuliffe himself and aides to Deeds and his opponent Bob McDonnell “did not respond to a request for comment.” So what possessed the reporter to write this story?  Someone’s pitch worked.  I doubt it was Holsworth, but whoever it was, they are still smoking – and inhaling – something.

Cross posted on News Commonsense.

Deeds Shows Courage, But Is He Proud of It?

It appears Creigh Deeds has listened to those who have ask him to show courage when talking about transportation funding.  Yesterday in The Washington Post, he wrote of his transportation plan, which while still a little thin on details, is honest about the funding alternatives and directly states that he would support higher taxes. 

Let me be clear regarding taxes. I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution. As a legislator, I have voted for a number of mechanisms to fund transportation, including a gas tax. And I’ll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation — even if it includes new taxes.

At his web site you’ll find a transportation plan that is more goals than specific projects he would endorse, save a number of rail initiatives and completing the Coafields Expressway.  Still his op-ed is to be commended for its honesty about taxes.

The op-ed led to a favorable editorial today from The Post.

R.CREIGH DEEDS, the Democrat running for governor in Virginia, has now unequivocally committed himself to support higher taxes to rescue the state’s sclerotic road system. His stance is nothing more or less than common sense: Virginia needs tens of billions of dollars in new revenue for roads, and it will not materialize without asking taxpayers — the same taxpayers who rightly groan about traffic — to foot a good part of the bill. Still, by articulating that position in plain English on the opposite page Wednesday, Mr. Deeds showed political guts, which is more than one can say for the smoke-and-mirrors, wing-and-a-prayer approach to transportation endorsed by his opponent, Republican nominee Robert F. McDonnell.

Usually such a glowing editorial would be the subject of campaign email landing in my inbox before I have my second cup of coffee.  No such email has been received yet.  It may still come.  It’s as if he said, “OK, I’ve used the T-word and I’m not going to talk about it again.”

In any event, I hope now he can continue that honest approach by talking about options and how he will approach the decision if elected.  Will he conduct a statewide campaign as Mark Warner did to build support for his tax increase?  Despite yesterday’s op-ed, Deeds continues to be pummeled.  The Fairfax Chamber of Commerce yesterday, in endorsing Bob McDonnell, complained that Deeds still doesn’t indentify funding sources, though that’s exactly what he did in his op-ed, though not specifying which taxes.

What I find curious about both the Deeds campaign and about coverage by The Post on this issue is that neither talk about McDonnell’s plan to issue bonds to pay for transportation.  That’s passing the bill on to the the next generation.  Yet The Post reporters often leave that out when describing McDonnell’s plans

McDonnell has proposed paying for transportation by shifting state money and relying on funding sources that don’t involve tax increases, such as privatizing the state’s liquor stores and adding tolls on some highways.

Republicans are chortling that Deeds has had his “Mondale moment.”  I think he has a good chance of carrying this off.

Deeds-McDonnell Poll

The Deeds folks are no doubt celebrating this morning’s Washington Post poll that shows him narrowing the race for Virginia governor.  His attacks on McDonnell’s extreme right-wing views are working.  Let’s pause for a moment and relish this development:  Democrats gain by pointing out the values of conservatives.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

Deeds is gaining with “independent” women.  I know that probably means those who don’t afiliate with one political part or the other, but I think there’s another way to look at it.  Independent, in the more general sense of the word, women who are Republicans can bring along their moderate GOP or conservatic Democratic hisbands.  Independent wives tend to get their way a lot fo the time, beleive me, I know.  With plenty of time left in this campaign, they will work on their sposes and friends to vote for Deeds, unless McDonnell can turn the tide.

One message Deeds needs to continue to press is that when McDonnell wrote his thesis, he already was married and had, I beleive, two daughters.  So looking into their eyes, he saw a role for them – barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.  Deeds will need to make the conenction between McDonnel’s thesis and where he was a that point in his life.

Deeds is leading big in northern Virginia, so obviously turnout will be important here.  Expect to see flyers targeting women here until election day.  After all, in the poll only 46% said they’ve heard “a good amount” about the thesis.  There are more to be educated.  Even though only less than one percent beleive the thesis is the most important issue, there are two reasons to ignore that statistic.  One, because it’s not the most important doesn’t mean it couldn’t influenec a voter.  And two, not many people will admit it’s the “most important,” even if it is.  Also, it will be critical for Deeds to come out with an ad that says “Bob McDonnell says his views on women have changed.  Then why did he introduce 34 bills restricting abortion while he was in the House of Delegates – which he was until only four years ago?” One of the focus group participants mention that what McDonnell wrote 20 years ago isn’t as inportnat as what he did.  Thirty-four anti-women bills is what he did.

Deeds is running less than I had hoped in rural Virginia.  With his slight drawl and gun rights’ votes, I thought he could peel off some of the Republican’s natural support.  Maybe spending mor time down there might help.  Maybe he can talk about how he wants to ensure we have enouigh revenues for schools down there and pojtn ot that McDonnell’s transportation plan would cripple their schools.  MAybe he could talk about the economic development he wants to bring to those areas, suggesting that he might lure some of NOVA’s business to those areas of the state.

If we have a healthcare bill signed by November, adn if the talk in DC is about strong financial reforms, we might see an uptick in enthusiasm by Democratic voters and a better response from independnet moderates.

The sidebar that discusses the focus groups incldues this intersting statement.

Many in both groups described traffic as their top concern — perhaps reinforced by the rush-hour traffic they battled to get to the Wednesday evening focus group meetings in Fairfax. But several expressed a deep cynicism about their political leaders’ ability and will to solve the region’s congestion issues. Some were worried that Deeds, as a native of western Virginia, would not be sympathetic enough to the transit needs of Northern Virginia.

…The economy and jobs are voters’ top concerns in the election, according to the new poll, but few in the focus groups expressed a strong view on which candidate could better lead the state out of its economic doldrums. Lisa Schumann, 36, of Bristow said, "I think that I need more information to say." She also wondered how much a governor could do to make a difference. [emphasis added]

Here is where Deeds has even more possibilities.  I’ll bet he would get a bump of five percent in Northern Virginia if we would talk honestly about taxes to improve transportation.  I’ve already written about how he could frame this.  I’m under no illusion that he will tak honestly about transportation funding, as I’m sure he’s hearing an earful from spineless Democrats who are telling him he shouldn’t go near the issue.

Deeds could also make the link between what a Democratic governor can get from a Democratic administration in terms of new jobs and the race.  Fact is governors can’t do a whole lot to help the state besides give away the store in terms of tax advantages to companies who bring business here.  What we give away and what we gain in new jobs can be debated.  Moreover, I’m not so sure that tax relief wins the day when a business and their workers can’t get around the state because of traffic.

Deeds-McDonnell Fairfax Debate


When I wrote the post below yesterday, I hadn’t seen this after the debate interview.  It’s not pretty.  This is why you can’t run away from an honest discussion of taxes. Robert McCarthy has more this morning.

Here’s another answer you could try, Creigh, to the question, “Will you raise taxes?”

“No governor can raise taxes without the consent of the governed.  Mark Warner didn’t raise taxes.  Gov. Warner saw a need, went across the Commonwealth to discuss that need with Virginians.  They saw the need.  They understood his reasons.  And they backed him.  But even then, he couldn’t raise taxes until the General Assembly agreed with him.  They debated.  They compromised, and they voted to raise taxes.  When I’m elected, I will study our options, see how the economy is doing next year, discuss it with Virginians through the state and with their representatives to see if, together, we can come up with a plan that move us forward on an issue that concerns citizens greatly.”

Of course, that would take a backbone, which puts Democrats at a congenital disadvantage.

This morning’s debate wasn’t really illuminating, but it had its moments.

First, the award for the stupidest question, to be given to one of the local reporters who surely couldn’t hold a candle to the bright light that is David Gregory of “Meet the Press.” You guessed it. The oracle on high asks Creigh Deeds, “Are you an Obama Democrat?” Not really that far from “Do you think Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright loves America as much as you?” asked by George Stuffasockinhispuss. Gregory, oblivious to his own silliness, actually asked the question twice.

McDonnell still comes off as smoother, but borders on rehearsed and automated. Deed’s passion comes through, though others may see a tongue flapping in the wind. He loses his point occasionally. Both ignored questions so they further rebut a previous question, but McDonnell managed to do it without getting snickers from the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce audience, who, let’s face it, was more likely to favor him.

McDonnell effectively addressed the thesis question by citing his wife and especially his Iraq veteran daughter as examples of his support for working women. That didn’t deter Deeds, who recited the points from his ad several times. But he missed an opportunity. He could have addressed his opponent directly. “Bob, you say that the thesis is old hat, but your record of introducing 34 bills to restrict the right to abortions is very recent. Why did you introduce so many such bills? Do those bills reflect your attitude about women’s rights? Are you willing to explain to voters why that was so much of your legislative agenda? Are you afraid to address that question?”

The other thing that struck me is how fast each candidate talked, rattling off facts and figures that surely were lost on the many in the audience due to the acoustics and probably by a good number of people who will hear this online or on TV. McDonnell is smoother at fast talk, which gives Deeds an opportunity to appear more thoughtful by slowing down. That doesn’t mean accentuating his slight Southern drawl. But by slowing his speech and using pauses effectively, he could be a thoughtful counterweight to McDonnell’s patter. Deeds did sound more passionate but it bordered on frantic. These delivery issues are much more important than candidates think. If you talk slower, with “thoughtful” pauses, people can follow your arguments better.

Speaking slowly might also allow a candidate to say something none of them want to say. Ever since Walter Mondale said he was going to raise taxes, it has been an article of faith among politicians that they never say they’ll raise taxes, especially during a campaign. The man or woman hailed as the next Obama will be the one who can articulate a grown-up approach to taxes. The argument is not that hard to make in the case of Virginia’s transportation system. (In fact, in front of the Chamber, if either said he’d consider a tax increase they might have gotten a cheer out of the blue suit crowd–as long as it wasn’t business taxes.)

How do you make the case for tax increases? Some thoughts for starters….

  1. First, you demonstrate the courage to address the issue. That alone will win you points. You don’t have to put it in an ad (believe me your opponent will) but being an adult about the issue will win you admiration from the information gatekeepers, especially editorial boards and likely a few reporters.
  2. You make the argument that a tax increase can actually save people money. For example, how much do you pay when you lose a tire or need a front end alignment after hitting a pothole? Or how do you value the time lost? Or gas burned sitting in traffic? It’s likely less than the tax increase one might proposed for transportation. Would you pay $75/year, or even $225/year (based on average 15,000 miles per year driven in a vehicle getting 20 miles to the gallon) for a 10-30-cent increase in the gas tax, which has declined in value over the last 20+ years? This is a tougher sell in non-urban areas, but the votes you lose there likely would be more than made up in urban areas. Is 30 cents enough? It’s a good start.
  3. Be specific on what they’ll gain. It’s not just we’ll improve transportation but what projects would you build, when would they be finished and exactly how much time and money might they save the average driver? People reject taxes in a knee-jerk fashion because they don’t believe they’ll get anything for it. Saying that a tax increase “will fix our transportation problem” is too vague. You need to be specific. You also might suggest tax trade-offs. What taxes or fees would you reduce to guarantee adequate transportation funds?
  4. Emphasize other cost savings. Tell them what you’ll cut in the overall budget to minimize the need for tax increases. If you emphasize only the income generation, you’re a tax-and-spender. Democrats especially can gain traction by talking about areas that can be cut. Today in Virginia, it’s prisons, as Kaine has learned.
  5. Attack the other guy’s empty promises. I am amazed that not once did Deeds point out that what McDonnell is proposing is the “borrow-and-spend” approach of the Bush administration. That’s what his bond program is all about. You need to service that debt. The money must come from somewhere.
  6. In Virginia, I think you can make the argument that so goes NOVA’s transportation, so goes its economy. And so it goes, so goes southern Virginia schools. NOVA pays for them.
  7. And, yes, speak slowly. Give people a chance to hear your argument.

Bottom line is we need to make that argument. I heard one Democratic leader say after the debate that “everyone in that room knows Deeds is open to a tax increase, but he can’t say it.” So do a lot of voters who are sitting on the fence. He needs the ones who may be open to a tax increase to fix transportation. But they won’t know what he plans to do until he tells them.

There may be another opening for Deeds in McDonnell’s antipathy towards unions. Many government workers are unionized. And I believe a lot of them live in Virginia.

Deeds missed another opportunity. When he mentions that McDonnell opposed Warner’s tax increases, he needs to tell Virginians where we’d be today without them. The hole would be much deeper and the cuts more draconian

One final note: I appreciate the nod Deeds gave to this blog, when he said he was a “commonsense Democrat.”

That’s what he meant, wasn’t it?

New Blog

It’s been quiet here for a few weeks.  So what else is new?  I’ve been travelling as well as injuring myself.  Got a painful back problem.  So there, I told the truth and made it sound as if that’s a rational reason for not writing. 

Also, I’ve decided to write about journalism issues on a new site, News Commonsense.  Lately (or at least before three weeks ago when this site went silent), many of my posts have been about news coverage.  So I thought I might segregate them in a blog just about the fourth estate.  So now I have two blogs I won’t be able to keep up with. 

I invite you to join me there, while I keep this blog about politics, maybe even about Virginia politics, which is what I set up this site for five and half years ago.  Times flies when you’re lackadaisical.

Meanwhile, did you hear the one about the gubernatorial candidate running in 2009 who thinks women ought to barefoot and pregnant?  Nah, jokes need to have an element of truth in them to be funny.  And who would believe that in this day and age?

No Proof, But Post Story Makes Front Page

Here’s all you need to know about Sandhya Somashekhar’s front page story about the Virginia governor’s race.

There is no empirical evidence [emphasis added] at this point in Virginia’s race for governor showing that huge numbers of voters think like Cleland and will respond by sending a message to Washington.

But that didn’t stop the Post reporter from fashioning an entire argument about the dynamics of the governor’s race based on the opinions of two individuals, one of whom was clearly ambivalent.  More likely, the reporter decided the slant she wanted and found two people who confirmed it, even though there is “no empirical evidence.”

This is another example of the lazy journalism increasingly practiced by The Washington Post, especially when it comes to the Virginia governor’s race.  We had another example Monday, when Roz Helderman wasted newsprint on a story that Democrats are still running against Bush.  The story was written for the political insiders but offered no help to general Post readers in deciding who to vote for.  Instead of writing stories about the issues, they write about the political dynamics, much of which they make up.

Regarding today’s story, there is mention that 52 percent of Americans support Obama, but it’s described as “the lowest number of his tenure.”  Indeed, it is also twice the number of his predecessor.  Ah, but that’s not the story she wanted to write.

According to a late July poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 78% of Americans think it is at least somewhat likely that “Obama will bring real change in the direction of the country.”  A month after his election that figure was at 81%.  The margin of error is 3.1%.  Which is to say, it’s about the same.  Meanwhile, you have 61% of Americans saying they have an unfavorable position of Republicans in Congress.

So why would someone vote Republican in the Virginia’s governor’s race.  I don’t know, but one can argue it has nothing to do with the Obama administration. 

Newsflash: Candidates Raise Money

In another waste of newsprint, The Washington Post reports this morning that Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell have raised money for the gubernatorial campaigns.  Wow!

Among the insights we get:

The Deeds campaign said a surge in donations was to be expected after a divisive primary as party loyalists came together behind their nominee.

…With just one other governor’s race this year, in New Jersey, Virginia’s election will attract attention and money from both national parties. It will be viewed as a measure of President Obama’s popularity

…"It’s an important race," said Mame Reiley, who was Democrat Brian Moran’s campaign chairwoman in the primary. "It’s an indicator of things to come on the federal level."

…"This race is about Virginia," Deeds spokesman Jared Leopold said. "It’s about how we get to work and how our kids are doing in school."

No news here.  But hey, it was easy to report, easy to fill up the space in the Metro section.

If neither candidate has reported anything unusual about how much money he raised, and we’re still nearly four months out from the election, and money didn’t seem to matter in the Democratic primary, couldn’t this report been made in a small box charting how much was raise and is on hand?

So far, we have had at least three Post reporters – Helderman, Kumar and Gardner — on Virginia’s governor’s race.  So far, none had brought us any insight or elucidated key issues in the race.

No News! Read It Here First!

If Washington Post executives want to revive their flagging fortunes, they don’t need salons.  They need stories.  So it’s disheartening to see them waster valuable newsprint on a non-story.

Sure Washington is the ultimate politcal insider town.  Many folks here love to read about the politics of campaigns, how they’re waged and stategies employed.  But are there enough such readers to sustain a general interest newspaper, even in Washington, DC?

Apparently, editors at The Post seem to think so.  How else to explain the fornt page, above the fold story about the inaction in the Virginia’s governor’s race.

To a degree rarely seen in state politics, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and Republican Robert F. McDonnell have spent the early summer hunkered down, amassing resources and plotting strategy for what is expected to be a fierce clash of styles and ideas. They are girding for a campaign that is viewed as a bellwether of President Obama’s sway with voters and a first test of the issues that Republicans hope will revive their party.

And yet, Deeds has held only a handful of events since his June primary victory, and McDonnell is going on vacation. Television and radio airwaves have fallen silent.

There is absolutely no news here except that the campagins are not gneerating news.  So why then write about it, in the middle of the summer when jouirnalists will tell you many people are not paying attention to the race yet?  I’m not even sure the politcal cognescenti care.  As of this morning, the story has generated a paltry 19 comments on the Post’s web site.  And if they don’t care about this story, why should the average voter/newspaper reader care?

I’ve written before about The Post’s obsession with politcal strategy as opposed to issues.  To be fair, The Post (that, my frequent criticism notwithstanding, is still one great newspaper) can give us many stories of substance.  This morning’s A1 story about prisons is one good example.   In fact, it would have been helpful for the reporter of this story to team up with Anita Kumar covering the Virginia gubernatorial or attorney general races to look at the issue from the Commonwealth’s perspective, especially as it seems to not be following the progressive direction of many state prison systems.

Instead of wasting newspaper real estate on something few people care about and offers no news of substance, why not pick an issue, examine it from a voter’s perspective, and write about it.  If The Post doesn’t write about things people care about, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re losing readers.

Lynchpin of Governor’s Race – Taxes?

Roz Helderman had a pedestrian B1 (Metro section) story on the Virginia governor’s race Sunday.  It broke no new ground, and it can be argued that its greatest value was that it reinforced a Republican point of view that taxes are one of the most critical issues facing voters in November.

It can also be argued that an article this soon in the race, at the height of the summer doldrums, will not impact the contest to any great degree.

But more disturbing is that this presages the kind of coverage we’re going to get from The Post on the race.

Even Republican nominee Bob McDonnell recently tried to downplay the tax issue by saying that he wouldn’t take the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge.

But Helderman and her editors, basically being lazy by re-hashing old tax/no tax arguments, lets us know that The Post, at least, is going to follow this political line throughout the campaign.  This was the first article since the Democratic primary that discussed an issue, instead of being a process article.  And of all the issues The Post could have addressed, they picked taxes.

What we can expect, then, is that Helderman will be asking tax questions throughout the campaign.  Why?  Because it’s easier to do that than study the more complex issues facing the electorate, such as how are we going to fund necessary transportation improvements in this down economy?

As a favor to the GOP, Helderman details votes Democratic candidate state Sen. Creigh Deeds has taken and suggests Deeds speaks with forked tongue.

Deeds, too, has said he does not intend to propose a tax increase. But he has promised to try to fix the state’s roads and rails — an issue often assumed to carry a $1 billion-a-year price tag — in his first year in office.

Basically she’s saying he can’t do it without raising taxes.

Does she ask how McDonnell might address the transportation problem?  No, but she assures us he won’t raise taxes.

[She quoted McDonnell] "I think in a down economy like this, it’s a very bad time to be levying more gas and sales tax on the hardworking citizens of Virginia."

And Helderman gives a prize piece of article real estate to those who argue taxes shouldn’t raised, as she concludes with,

But the economic downturn and a yawning budget gap may provide new resonance for the tax issue this year, said George Mason University professor Mark J. Rozell.

"The state of the economy is so dramatically different than it was in the last election cycle four or eight years ago," he said. "There is a different dynamic out there today."

My argument with this article is not so much what Helderman says or doesn’t say in it.  It’s more of a disappointment that we can expect The Post to take the easy way out in its gubernatorial election coverage. 

No one loves paying taxes.  But real leadership doesn’t start with talking about taxes.  How many of us start our day by saying, “Shall I spend something today, or should I try to make more money than I did yesterday?”  No, we look at what we have, what we would lie, and make a decision whether it’s a good idea to pay for some things now that we know would be a good investment later.  A house comes to mind.  But any decision we make about money basically comes down to what we want and how much we’re willing to sacrifice for it.

The first step for politicians then should be, “This is the vision I have, and here’s how I propose paying for it.”  Wasting valuable newsprint on whether we should raise taxes absent what we’d use them for means that much less discussion on what we want as an electorate. 

“Never take an anti-tax pledge, but never increase taxes…

…and don’t vote for anyone who has.”

That seems to be the message of Wyatt Durrette over at Virginia Tomorrow.  He may be doing nothing more than giving cover to Bob McDonnell, who has recently said he won’t take an anti-tax pledge.

McDonnell has been tacking left so fast he’s likely to tip his boat over any day.  Others may be impressed, but this seems just another ploy by McDonnell to mask his true positions and intentions.

Durrette has a confusing post saying pledges are a bad idea.  But…

The simple fact is that transportation needs must be met.  Maybe it can be done without a tax increase at the state level.  I hope so.  And there are options.

…Clearly taxes should not be raised now or in the near term due to the cratered economy.  In fact, some taxes might be reduced to spur job creation.

Gee, does anyone remember anyone in the Repugnant Party (save a few state senators who were nearly run out of the party) voting for a tax increase back a few years ago when we were flush?   With the GOP, there is a never a good time to raise taxes.

But pledges are a bad idea, Durrette says.  Instead voters should look at a candidate’s record.

A record of supporting tax increases is one signal.  One of opposition is another.  Voters need to make judgments on records, not on promises made under circumstances where the unpredictability of the future may require a reversal.

I guess I’m old fashioned.  I want candidates to tell me what vision they have for the county, state or country.  What programs do they want to initiate, expand, contract or cut?  If necessary, what taxes will they raise and which ones might they cut to fulfill their vision?  Leading with a commitment to raise or cut taxes is bassackwards.

That may be what Durrette is saying, but as I wrote in the comments section of his post, given his inferences, “It seems all you are doing here is saying that a candidate should never promise not to raise taxes, but elected officials should never raise them nonetheless. And voters should never vote for one who has.”

Got that?  It’s precisely what McDonnell is trying to say.