Today’s RPV State Convention wasn’t just a nearly twelve hour long ordeal for delegates, it was plenty of fun. That is, if you know where to look for it. Stay glued to a seat talking to people who don’t know what’s happening and it can seem like an ordeal. Be a real political junkie and really pay attention, and there’s plenty to amuse yourself with.
The big news of course is the nomination of Bishop E. W. Jackson as the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor. A convention obviously suits the kind of campaign he can run much better than a primary and we now have a very intellectually aggressive, oratorically gifted minority candidate who is sure to drive the left to utter distraction. Jackson lead the way the whole convention and as other candidates dropped out he consistently picked up the lion’s share of the votes from eliminated candidates and nearly saved delegates an hour or two of additional drama when he came within three-tenth’s of a percentage of winning outright on the third ballot.
The challenge Jackson is going to face is transitioning to a general election campaign. A case in point was when one of his activist leaders — Mike McHugh — demonstrated just how irrational and irresponsible he can be when he charged the podium while Tim Hugo was announcing the results of the third ballot. McHugh is dangerously unpredictable and a huge potential liability to a general election campaign and really needs to be dismissed, but Jackson may try to retain him out of a sense of loyalty for his work in the primary. I expect that’s a big deal for Bishop Jackson, but hope a sober assessment of the situation convinces him that loyalty cannot overcome good judgment. Cuccinelli is fully aware of McHugh’s history and personality and I expect will put his foot down lest McHugh find some way to create unnecessary controversy for the ticket. Jackson’s transition to a general election campaign might require some other changes as well, but he is going to make a very interesting sidekick for Ken Cuccinelli and will definitely add a very interesting dynamic to the newly geographically-balanced ticket.
Mark Obenshain overcame Bell, which is only surprising insofar as Bell managed to get somewhat close in this. Obenshain is an icon — not just his family name in Virginia politics, but Mark in his own right has really been the standard-bearer for conservatives in the Senate and quite eclipses the legacy of his father in terms of accomplishment. That Bell was even competitive here was quite an accomplishment, especially given that Cuccinelli let slip to a reporter that he was casting his ballot for Mark.
Now let’s get on to the less “newsy” items and get to the political junkie stuff.
Campaigns are definitely trying to “tech up” for conventions in hopes that will give them the edge. So far the tools I saw can’t deliver that edge, but they sure can distract campaigns from doing what otherwise might help them as they focus on feeding data into systems and trying to scrutinize it to see if it can tell them something interesting. Until some vendor can demonstrate that some technology based system can help them figure out at a moment’s notice how they’re going to wean specific delegates to their side and where they happen to be at any particular moment, they offer no value proposition whatsoever and probably hurt campaigns more than help them. The next time I see volunteers wasting their time trying to input information into some mobile device on a convention floor instead of talking to people the temptation to smash the thing on the floor will be quite difficult to resist.
Pete Snyder came amazingly close to pulling this race off. I hadn’t thought at all that he would make it to the final two, but in one stroke he probably could have won pretty handily. In between the first and second ballots there was an extremely long delay and folks poured outside to buy overpriced sammiches from the two food vendors outside the coliseum and the lines were easily a few hundred deep. Where was the pig rig? Heck, I went to Snyder’s hospitality suite on Friday evening about 45 minutes after it opened and found out his barbequeue, which as usual was getting really high reviews had run out! Aargh! I never even had a chance to taste it! During this break there’s several hundred bored and hungry delegates and had he been able to ply them with this reportedly awesome feast — while wooing the folks waiting in line with the Pete XIII message, I bet he could have mined quite a few votes. I’m the candidate who actually cares about what you need. The most costly campaign in the race blew a tremendous opportunity.
Speaking of Snyder, every candidate that dropped out either didn’t endorse anyone or endorsed Pete (as best I can recall), yet Snyder still came up short. If Snyder could have enunciated why he was someone other candidates obviously thought of as the best second choice to the delegates themselves, things could have turned out quite differently. What’s the message the other candidates got about him that the delegates didn’t get directly? Maybe Pete has a solid political future here if he can figure that one out. Until then, he might want to consider leveraging the utterly awesome marketing job he did with his barbequeue recipe into a business venture because right now there’s a whole lot of people out there who either themselves have been telling people how awesome his food is or endured having so many others gush about it to them that if anyone slaps “Pete 13″ on any restaurant in Virginia the parking lot in front of it is going to jam up instantly.
Devolites Davis should pretty much be done with politics right now. She wasn’t on the bottom of the ballot but pretty close, and if this isn’t a huge wake-up call for her the issue of any future candidacy she might have in the future would unavoidably be why people dislike her so much. Even though Martin underperformed even her, nobody dislikes the guy at all. He just can’t run a competitive campaign.
Or perhaps is there an anti-incumbent (or at least anti-establishment) meme taking hold in Virginia politics? Obenshain didn’t suffer from any of this to any large degree, and it’s not a case of Bell really being seen as an outsider too much, but in a way he kinda was. In the LG race, the top two at the end were political neophytes and that’s pretty remarkable. Stewart talked about experience and got farther than I expected but it never overcame anyone without it. The explanation might lie in the grassroots frustration with McDonnell’s push and the General Assembly’s acquiescence to a transportation tax hike this year which has soured a LOT of convention delegates on “the establishment” — or simply elected experience — whether the individual candidate supported the tax hike or not. It just poisoned the whole brand of a veteran legislator, and the grassroots are clearly restive, frustrated, and to some degree revolting after feeling like they’d been taken advantage of this session. If there was one topic about the latest session of the General Assembly in discussion among people at the convention, this was it, and the wound has absolutely not healed.
Pat Mullins did a pretty remarkable job of running this convention behind the scenes with an iron fist, and Tim Hugo did a great job of putting a nice polish on the public face of it for the long duration. Neither are easy tasks, but both are critical. Things could actually have gone quite a bit longer without Mullins putting his fist down when needed and once again we see the wisdom in having him selected for this role. Every time Pat gets a job he seem to pull it off better than anyone else and hardly anyone ever knows about what happened or what that job involved. Tim complemented this with humor and managed to stay nonplussed and on target when folks tried to derail proceedings late in the convention, which isn’t easy to do. These are quality folks doing a hard job and rarely do they get the appreciation and plaudits they actually deserve, because hardly anyone ever understands just how tough the jobs are they’re called to do.
Even though the process, as designed, worked as well as it did given these excellent folks, the outcome wasn’t any different than what Instant Runoff Voting or a Single Transferable Vote system would have likely yielded. STV would have required one ballot and the outcome would have been decided by 2PM, rather than around 10PM with Jackson at the top as far as I can tell. I’m not sure the party has any stomach for such a radical change in the way conventions are traditionally run but I don’t see a whole lot of appetite for people signing up to be convention delegates in the future if there’s a large slate of candidates given that it took about twelve hours to complete the process. Candidates endorsing each other after they’re dropped off subsequent ballots doesn’t necessarily impact the outcome as much as conventional wisdom might hold, although it’s arguable that E. W. Jackson was sort of a special case here.
It was a long day, so I’ll wrap this up. My preferred candidates didn’t pull it off, and I am disappointed about that, but the outcomes are pretty darned good regardless which makes the exercise quite worth it.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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