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The Gross National Debt

Sunday, June 25, 2006
Want to Win in 2006? Give This a Read.

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos, My Left Wing and ePluribus Media)

Some of you may have read llbear's diary last night directing you to live blogging by John Laesch. John is a candidate for the US House of Representatives, running against the one and only Denny Hastert, current Speaker of the House. I stopped by there last night and engaged in a brief but informative discussion. You see, I'm a Virginia resident. In 2000, I was invited to a fairly exclusive (and expensive) fundraiser for then-Democratic candidate for the VA Governorship, Mark Warner.

This all ties together... Make the jump with me and find out how.Before I Begin

John Laesh is currently a top ten finalist in Mark Warner's Map changers effort. If you're unfamiliar with it, follow the link. There are three rounds of voting and we are currently in round 2. Anyone can stop by and register to vote. You select five candidates each from the East and from the West. The second round of voting closes on June 29 (this Thursday), and each of the ten ultimate winners will receive $5,000 from Mark Warner's Forward Together PAC. The ultimate Grand Prize winner (determined through the third and final round of voting) will receive a fundraiser with Mark Warner. For many of these candidates, this is a huge deal. The money infused into their campaigns can mean the difference between winning and losing and, ultimately, whether or not Democrats change the map with this election cycle. Head on over there and cast your vote - it doesn't cost a thing but your time.

Background

With those tactics and details out of the way, I would like to turn to the real reason for my diary.

I have, up until about a month ago, been a regular diarist and contributor to Daily Kos throughout my tenure here, which is approaching two years. Work has pulled me away from actual writing and, in some cases, from meaningful commenting. I have, however, been reading. The pressures of my daily life have turned me into somewhat of a lurker. But I do read and outside of the requisite amount of intra-Daily Kos drama, I've seen a recurrent theme throughout the diaries, both in those that get recommended and those that do not.

There are the cadre of mid-term optimists, those who back their candidates and maintain an always positive outlook on what their candidates say and do. That's absolutely necessary, of course. Enthusiasm and energy is a lifeblood of any campaign, and especially of those campaigns where the Democratic candidate is a challenger and particularly a "stretch" candidate. Subtext to all of that optimism and enthusiasm is, however, a feeling of deep and growing angst. Many of us, while staunch Democratic supporters with our money and our time and our efforts, are growing increasingly concerned with the Republican-lite appearance in some campaigns and candidacies. We all seem to acknowledge and agree that "we're not them (Republicans)" is not a campaign strategy nor is it an articulation of meaningful policy. We see repeated in our imaginations a failure to capitalize on the opportunity before us in this election cycle. We feel instinctively that the Karl Rove-led noise machine will garner some traction and momentum and potentially distract from the real issues, and we seem to further feel that Democrats (generally) are playing into the hands of the Rovian strategy, alternately attempting to co-opt incendiary "moral" issues while simultaneously trying to capitalize on Republican missteps. I feel this angst - a general impression that we are standing on a precipice, and that if we don't get our act together, we will lose that which is arguably within our reach.

The Anatomy of a Democratic Success

Mark Warner gets mixed reviews here on Daily Kos. Responses to him in the straw polls have been tepid (at best) to nonexistent, hovering right around the 3-4% mark. I found this comment in one of Kos' straw polls which, in part, said the following:

Warner is way too conservative for my blood. He doesn't even believe in civil unions for gay couples! Neither he or Richardson have the charisma to get elected.

I also found this comment in a different straw poll thread which said:

And as much as Hillary doesn't excite me for President, the prospect of Biden having to face a Ruth Ann Minner or comparable D in a Delaware Senate primary does. Don't know enough about Warner or Richardson, but I'd prefer the latter, possibly as running mate for Clark.

My emphasis added. There seem to be three prevailing opinions about Mark Warner.

1. Who?

2. He's a DINO.

3. He's the winner.

So let me tell you a bit about Virginia and about Mark Warner not to sway you to a Warner candidacy in 2008, but to show you a roadmap for success for Democratic candidates right here in 2006.

Mark Warner aligned his campaign message and strategy with the items that were concerning Virginians. Chief among these were improving K-12 and higher education in Virginia, Eliminating a staggering $6B Virginia budget defecit, and attracting businesses to the more rural (and poor) sections of Virginia. Let's focus on these three for the time being - they were the lynchpins of his campaign.

A Balanced Budget and Fiscal Responsibility

Mark Warner came to the Virginia Governor's campaign from a successful career in business. When he first took office, he was not only faced with a $6B budget defecit but also a Republican-controlled state legislature. Wisely, Warner decided that a contentious approach would be unsuccessful. He worked with the legislature to identify areas of fiscal redundancy and cut redundancies, not programs. He insisted that the legislature as a body become a better financial planner and instituted the development of a 6-year financial plan to validate the long-standing 2 year budget process. Unwilling to compromise on issues like education and healthcare, Warner worked with the legislature to revise the tax code so that it was more equitable and sustaining. He carried Virginia from fiscal shambles to the best-managed state in the country.

Backing up a step - his campaign focused on this tone of consensus. Knowing that Virginians cared deeply about the fiscal state of the Commonwealth and the myriad meanings that would have for jobs and schools and transportation, he struck a tone of bi-partisan reform and quietly convinced Virginia voters that he could accomplish it.

Education

Access to high quality public education at both the K-12 and higher education level in Virginia was a hallmark of the Warner campaign, and one closely aligned with the concerns of Virginians. From Warner's website, here are a few of the accomplishments in education he achieved during his four-year term:

K-12 Education

Higher Education

This may all seem mundane - but when he was running for office, these were critical concerns for average Virginians regardless of their party affiliation, and Mark Warner spoke to those concerns.

Job Creation

Virginia is a diverse state both culturally and economically. The Northern Virginia area is largely affluent, while portions of rural Virginia were terribly impoverished. His Virginia Works program targeted economically distressed communities and applied appropriate resources for programs to retrain and redirect the economic foundation of distressed areas.

In what I believe was his largest accomplishment, however, Mark Warner made incredibly innovative investments in technology infrastructure and targeted the military and gaming industries’ computer modeling and simulation needs to attract new businesses to Virginia's rural areas. With the infrastructure in place, the R&D requirements of these two industries could be met in areas that, previously, were isolated and behind-the-times.

When I was at my small Warner fundraising event, he blew me away with his plans to accomplish this infrastructure investment (remember - we were facing a huge budget defecit at the time). He basically laid out a plan to the small group of 15 people standing in the room where he would take transportation dollars (which were abundant through public referendum) to initiate road and highway improvements in economically distressed areas. While the VA Department of Transportation had the roads torn up for improvements, he would lay the guts of high speed telecommunications infrastructure (the theory being that with the roads already ripped up, the economies of scale in installing this infrastructure was enormous). He then proposed to lease capacity back to the telecommunications providers (effect: dollar in the state coffers) while simultaneously embarking on an outreach program to industries seeking qualified people and capacity (e.g., the military and gaming industries).

These are only three things I have highlighted among the many items Mark Warner undertook on behalf of the State of Virginia and its residents. All three were wildly successful. Virginia enjoys a balanced budget. Virginia has seen increases in educational achievement at the K-12 and higher education levels. Virginia has very low unemployment and has seen revitalization of areas previously depressed by changing times. Mark Warner knew these policies would work and he campaigned on them and did so very clearly and consistently.

So What?

There are a lot of complaints I generally see about Mark Warner in the context of the 2008 Presidential election. Leave that aside for now - the point of this diary is not to pimp Mark Warner as a candidate for 2008. Rather, the point is to show that Mark Warner's campaign for Virginia's Governorship can provide a valuable lesson to Democratic candidates in 2006. Let me start by pointing out what I didn't talk about.

1. Abortion

2. Gay Marriage

3. Flag burning

4. Gun Control

5. Insert your favorite issue here.

These issues essentially became non-issues in the 2000-2001 campaign for Virginia governor. And believe me - while the Northern Virginia area is progressive and trends very blue, the other areas of the state are very aggressive in both their opinions and their voting habits, trending decidedly red and aligning themselves, ideologically, with conservative attitudes. In short, the Governor's race would not be won by luring only Northern Virginia voters. Warner (and Kaine after him) had to appeal to rural, evangelical and conservative voters to claim the prize. Let's focus first on how he did not do it.

These were rat-trap issues in Virginia. Remember what I said above about the cultural and economic diversity across the state of Virginia - many rural Virginians were likely to vote for Warner's opponent had he cracked down on guns or supported gay marriage. He would have stepped into the Republican cultural trap and would have neutralized his own strengths, which exist in the economic arena. So he focused on his strengths and neutralized his weaknesses.

Many here think that, because he supported (or rather, didn't loudly and frequently oppose it) gun policy and/or did not embrace the rights of gays to marry, Warner is a DLC "shill" or is somehow a "DINO". I would caution you to think carefully before applying such labels and recognize that Warner structured his campaign on a winning message and generally didn't engage on the so-called morals/values issues. He kept his campaign structured and focused on the desires and concerns of Virginians, the only "base" he cared about. And it won him the Governor's office and delivered for him the highest approval ratings for a Governor is recent history.

I made this comment directly to John Laesch in his diary (linked in the introduction) yesterday:

Thanks John. (5+ / 0-)

Best to you.

A further thought... In Virginia, Mark Warner ran without a political pedigree. Don't get me wrong - he wasn't an anti-politican - rather, he played to the strengths he already brought to the table and those strengths arose from having a successful business career.

He also came across inherently as a person who was sincere in what he said. It never seemed to be "spun" and he never came off as pandering. I think that was critical. Virginia is more of a swing state than the Democratic establishment recognizes - the conundrum is, however, that the Democratic establishment seems to want to promote only the smooth-talking capitulators (generally speaking).

Stay true to yourself and what you believe in, and speak it loudly with conviction. Don't compromise - be real and don't let the potential of winning or losing cause you to lose that authenticity. THAT is what our party needs - a return to government for the sake of constituents. Communicate that belief and desire and YOU will be the catalyst that starts to turn the tide.

I can't underscore how important I think Warner's genuineness and sincerity was in this campaign. Many here at Daily Kos lament his charisma - but I would argue that Warner does not lack charisma. It is merely overshadowed by his unsquelchable competence and legitimacy. He exudes it and people felt comfortable with him and believed him as a result.

In Conclusion

Man this was a long diary. :-)

What I would like readers to take away from this is the following:

I know I could think of so many more, but I think I'm winding down here... In short, I share the Daily Kos-wide concerns that we are running on a "we're not them" platform. But the 2006 elections are inherently local and Democratic candidates need support and latitude to address issues specific to their district and state. If you live in a state that is incredibly conservative, you're going to have to potentially embrace a candidate who you would consider more conservative than you. Give them a break - they can't do anything if they don't win. And when they do win, we can only hope that they were as true to Democratic issues (generally) as Mark Warner turned out to be.



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