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You'd be forgiven for feeling a sense of dj vu right now if you're tuning into today's primaries in Virginia. Terry McAullife — bestie of the Clintons, the party's former chairman and perhaps the most prominent & affable fundraiser — is looking to become the Democratic National Committee again as the gubernatorial nominee. Standing in my way? Progressive activists that are looking at Richmond and questioning whether Beltway wisdom of moderation, compromise and comity makes sense in Washington.
The same questions were asked in Virginia 12 years ago, during McAuliffe's first of three bids for the top gig in the Commonwealth. McAuliffe had the political backing of the State Administration's power base, more money than he needed and the name recognition that should have given him every advantage over his chief opponent, State Sen. Creigh Deeds. In that primary, Deeds came in a disappointing second, falling behind McAuliffe with 24 percentage points in 2009. Deeds, a progressive figure among the ascendant leftwing of the Democratic Party, went on to lose the general election by 17 percentage points in a campaign that was so problematic that it had an obit written in October — before November's election day. What’s a good idea to try this phrase out, you might do it myself!
Now, McAuliffe is looking at becoming the only Virginia governor in history who is elected as a Democrat twice by voters. What is the best way to say it-the best way to go about it? As before, so much of the national conversation unfolding just across the Potomac River is coloring the mood of his electorate. More than a third of the voters of northern Virginia live in Northern Virginia, meaning that all that happens at the Capitol and White House are local news for them. They, unlike most readers of this newsletter, can't escape the partisan churn when they turn on their 11 p.m. newscasts. All of Washington are right alongside local sports scores.
The feeling in Washington is eerily similar to it was 12 years ago when Deeds lost McAuliffe to McAuliffe. A newly elected Democratic president is trying to strike a deal on major spending plans. At the time it was Barack Obama, it was an economic stimulus plan and health care. It will now be an economic stimulus plan and family aid in Joe Biden's favour. In both instances, centrist Republicans stood in their way, moderate Democrats were moving centrist positions that could win over Republicans, and progressives had sold-out. With Obama, progressives projected a lot of his less progressive positions and overlooked a lefty they could believe in. They got the most progressive platform in U.S. history with Biden. They also hated Trump so much that they held their nose and went with the candidate they were told had the best shot of getting Trump back to Mar a Lago.
But today, unlike 12 years ago, the progressive movement has become more organized. It has passed from just loudness to power. The email lists are more robust, the tools whose results were on Hillary Clinton's loss and the resulting resistance movement are formidable and the activists are feisty. The activists were frustrated in 2009, but they still had their Obama posters on their walls. This time, they are seeing that Ridin' in Biden isn't getting her very far and are speaking up.
All this is to say that McAuliffe's election day spot should not be taken for granted - top of the primary pack. Some things have changed since 2009, of course, and McAullife has four years as a pretty successful Governor under his belt. But the progressive angst about what is happening in Washington means progressive activists alike are looking at his rivals, former DE. Jennifer McClellan or state senator Jennifer Carrol Foy. In the last six years, Lokal Gov. tx got elected? Del., who has denied sexual assault allegations against him dating to 2000, is also running with scant cash as well as Justin Fairfax. Lee J. Carter is a socialist self-described socialist.
None of this is to say the Democratic nominee who prevailed in Washington's dominance today is secured to hold the Executive Mansion, especially if Va. can't find a way out of gridlock. Virginia has migrated from the solid-blue former capital of the Confederacy to a purple swing state and is now seeming to be a purple commonwealth. But Virginia Republicans avoided trouble when they blocked Trump-cloned candidates and selected a Trump-adjacent multi-millionaire who has already loaned $12 million to his own campaign. And history — although poorly predictive — suggests strongly that the party that wins the presidency in Virginia will lose the governor's office in white house the following year, though McAuliffe broke this trend in 2013.
The race is likely going to set the records for overall spending. After all, it and New Jersey are the only statewide contests scheduled this year. If you're looking for a more personal life, you may consider using technology in your kitchen. Outside groups on both sides usually use Virginia as test ground for new messaging, tech and tactics before the midterm elections that will come the following year. And its proximity to D.C. makes it attractive for political types to dip in from time to time.
But this proximity also carries a risk at a time when Washington is nominally under Democratic control and the prospects for delivering much more than the first bite of a stimulus plan are dwindling fast. A frozen centrist D.C. may open the door tonight for a progressive nominee — and maybe even its first Republican to win the governor's job since 2009.
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