With less than two weeks until Election Day for Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Democrat panic is beginning to reach a fever pitch.
This race was supposed to be the “sure thing” that helped them reverse a trend of embarrassing special election losses. Never mind that this should be Democrats to lose. After all, the state supported Barack Obama for president twice, opted for Hillary Clinton over Trump, and has elected governors from the party that lost the presidency in nine of the last 10 elections. Irrespective of whether it is a true bellwether, Democrats just need to be able to show that they can win again.
But just the opposite is happening. Rather than show success in areas of strength, they are falling on their face, demonstrating an inability to even agree internally, much less make inroads with the rural voters who increasingly spurn them. Here are the top four problems plaguing what the Democrat campaign that has left activists “openly panicked” about their prospects:
1. They’ve Failed to Appeal to Their Liberal Base
A report by Governing Magazine earlier this month noted that Democrat candidate Ralph Northam’s lackluster campaign “has yet to catch fire among many Democrats.” Part of that has to do with Northam’s clumsily transparent attempt to be a political weathervane in the mold of Hillary Clinton, blowing whichever way the political winds seem to be going at the time. That problem has become most apparent in his initial support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which liberals have said is akin to “giving the finger to progressives.” Unsurprisingly, Northam has attempted to backtrack (read: flip-flop) on the issue, but it hasn’t been enough to re-assure a base that is moving ever-further to the left.
The intra-party squabble came to a head last week when the Northam campaign received the news that Bernie Sanders and his Our Revolution group announced they would not be endorsing him for governor. It’s an embarrassing turn of events given they did endorse his primary opponent, Tom Perriello, whom Sanders actively campaigned for, and the group’s decision to endorse six Virginia House of Delegates candidates. It’s not a good sign for Northam’s ability to unify Democrats if he can’t get the party’s figurehead to endorse him in one of the most crucial races in recent history.
2. They’ve Failed to Appeal to Rural Voters
If the Northam campaign is refusing to be as liberal as the activists within his party would like, you’d at least think that he would be attempting to win over the rural voters that his party has scorned in recent years. You’d be wrong. Politico reports:
“But the effort and enthusiasm has come with little evidence of Democratic improvement in rural Virginia, a warning sign for a party preparing to content Senate, House and gubernatorial races throughout rural America next year.
…Northam’s rural polling is little better than Hillary Clinton’s final result in last year’s presidential race. And rural Democrats worry the party still feels it is an unnecessary afterthought compared to the suburban counties Northam hopes to ride to victory.”
If rural Democrats feel ignored, just imagine how the on-the-fence rural voters feel. This appears to be one lesson that Democrats don’t want to learn.
3. Unforced Errors of the Worst Kind
In addition to the questionable, but difficult, policy decisions that have plagued his run (e.g. the flip-flops on the pipeline), Northam can’t get out of his own way on the easy things. For instance, Northam created a scandal by amazingly leaving the party’s African American candidate for lieutenant governor off of campaign literature.
“It reeks of subtle racism, if not a tone deafness about how we are going to win in November,” Quentin James, the founder of Collective PAC that supports black candidates, told the Washington Post. “Leaving Justin Fairfax off . . . even if it’s only for a small universe of union members, still sends the wrong message.”
Northam appeared on NBC News in an attempt to conduct damage control, but only succeeded in creating even more problems by refusing to apologize, arguing that the issue was “between the union and [Fairfax].” Northam then made another unforced error by failing to adequately explain his dueling statements on Trump. Northam has run TV ads calling the president a “narcissistic maniac” while running others claiming he’ll “work with him,” which have left both sides of the voting divide frustrated. Northam attempted to dodge the discrepancy, leaving NBC host Hallie Jackson to say that he’s trying to “have his cake and eat it too.”
4. Northam Has Failed to Put Forward Concrete Ideas
When a candidate attempts to be everything to everyone it often results in being nothing to no one. Such is the case with Northam’s campaign. Take, for example, his nonexistent tax reform plan, despite campaign ads calling on viewers to go online and compare his plan’s with Republican challenger Ed Gillespie’s. Or worse, his cluelessness about education reform. Here’s the Washington Post editorial board lamenting their frustration:
We recently revisited this history with Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) during a discussion of what he would do with public education if he were elected governor next month. Mr. Northam claimed to believe in accountability but was utterly unable to explain what he means by the word. The state’s Standards of Learning (SOL), which establish minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do, aren’t working, he said, and should be tossed out. What would replace them? Astonishingly, after almost four years as lieutenant governor and a month away from the election, Mr. Northam had no answer.
Northam doesn’t appear to have an answer for any policy area, at least not if you attempt to dig beyond the high-level talking points.
Given that, and all of the other tactical mistakes of the Northam campaign, it’s no surprise that Republican Ed Gillespie has surged from a double digit deficit into a dead heat. Gillespie has outworked Northam, he’s avoided unforced errors, and most of all, he’s put forward a positive, detailed policy platform. If Democrats truly want to break their losing streak they must learn: There is no replacement for good ideas.