Monday, June 06, 2005

Is Charlottesville Connaughton Country?

Driving into McIntire Park earlier this evening to attend a joint meeting of the Albemarle County and Charlottesville Republican parties, it was hard – no, impossible – not to be struck by the huge number of signs along the road promoting Sean Connaughton for Lieutenant Governor.

It turns out there were 150 regular-size yard signs and about 30 oversize billboard-type signs along all the roads entering and exiting the park from the Route 250 Bypass and completely surrounding the pavilion where the meeting (and potluck dinner) was taking place.

By contrast, there were no Bill Bolling signs anywhere to be found. It turns out that Bolling’s field rep, Matt Wells, showed up for the meeting with just a handful of signs. When he saw the overwhelming number of Connaughton signs, he just put his own bunch back into the trunk of his car. Resignation is sometimes, it seems, preferable to being overshadowed and embarrassed. (To be fair, former Delegate Peter Way gave an impassioned speech on Bolling’s behalf, receiving polite applause from the assembled party faithful.)

Quiet conversations with party activists after the meeting’s business was concluded revealed a surprising amount of support for Connaughton’s bid for the nomination. Most approached the question pragmatically, citing Connaughton’s record of successful election and re-election in Northern Virginia, a region of the state critical to the Republican ticket this November.

These are activists with long memories of victory and defeat. How many people do you know who can talk authoritatively about attending the 1978 convention that nominated Richard Obenshain for U.S. Senate? Or about the last dual primary, held in 1949, when fewer than 10,000 Republicans voted in their own party’s primary across the state? Not that there were many to begin with, but most Republican voters crossed party lines to vote in the Democratic primary for John S. Battle, since back in those days the primary was effectively the general election, with the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November just a coronation. (Sort of like most General Assembly districts these days.)

Their argument that Connaughton brings both regional and – for lack of a better word – ideological balance to the ticket is credible and persuasive. Kilgore comes from the far southwestern portion of the state, a region that has been pretty much unrepresented in statewide office in recent years. Whoever gets the Attorney General nomination, whether Steve Baril or Bob McDonnell, will cover the Richmond-Tidewater corridor. (And ideologically? As I pointed out to a new voter tonight, “Baril is endorsed by Jerry Falwell, while McDonnell is endorsed by Pat Robertson.” To which he replied, “That’s like Henry Ford saying you can have a car in any color you want, as long as it’s black.”)

Bill Bolling has roots in Southwest Virginia and represents a Richmond-area district in the state Senate. That means of all the potential statewide candidates for the GOP – aside from maverick George Fitch, who as mayor of Warrenton represents the far exurbs of Northern Virginia – only Connaughton brings with him any ties to the vote-rich Northern Virginia suburbs of D.C. In the general election campaign, he would be smart to admit that Bolling’s attacks – characterizing Connaughton as “less conservative” than himself – were largely true. Moderate and pragmatic voters are frightened by ideologues of both left and right, but these days mostly by hard-right hardliners who seem too concerned about people’s sex lives and not concerned enough about who’s picking up the trash on the curbside. (Do you remember Jay Katzen’s successful campaign for Lieutenant Governor four years ago? ... That’s what I thought.)

As a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Connaughton has had to deal with those “trash-collection” issues – the pragmatic issues that every county board or city council member faces, the tedious questions of where to put a traffic signal or how bright to shine a light over a city-run basketball court. The deliberations that lead to decisions on these issues are unlikely to win many friends, but they teach officeholders how to balance the wants and needs of different segments of the community while remaining true to their core political values. This is what nuts-and-bolts politics is all about – and having that experience is therefore an asset to anyone on a statewide ticket.

Yard-sign wars are merely surface symbols of who may be winning a campaign. The thought processes of political veterans are not. When you hear them say that Connaughton has an edge with pragmatic voters in the June 14 Republican primary, you have to stop and listen.


Tim said...

Do you remember Jay Katzen’s successful campaign for Lieutenant Governor four years ago?

Remember it? I still have one of Katzen's "Virginia's Not Vermont" bumper stickers!

Horse Sense said...
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partyguy said...
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