Monday, November 14, 2005

Food for Thought on Prince William Returns

This will be an on-going consideration of the vote totals in Prince William.

First, who was the biggest vote-getter in Prince William County in 2005?

According to the most recent State Board of Elections data, it was Bob McDonnell, Republican for Attorney General, with 34,339 votes.

And who came in second?

That would be Bill Bolling, Republican for Lieutenant Governor, with 33,571 votes.

Interestingly, Democrat Tim Kaine only barely made the top three, besting Jerry Kilgore by 1,189 votes.

Also interestingly, the Winchester Billy Goat, Russ "Chamber" Potts, from the Benedict Arnold wing of the GOP, received 1,220 votes in Prince William County.

What do these returns tell us about the County? Contrary to the conventional wisdom in the Left-wing media, I do not, unsurprisingly, believe that this is bad news for the GOP.

Let's first deal with the issue of the Winchester Billygoat. One could speculate that the Potts vote hurt Kilgore in Prince William, but it would take a great deal to persuade me that he took votes from Kilgore, not Kaine, and that all of those votes would have gone to Kilgore to put him over the top in Prince William. I have never thought that Potts took votes from Kilgore, since he worked very hard to sound like a tax-and-spend Democrat. Believing that Potts took votes from Kilgore accuses self-styled "moderate" Republicans of treachery. Assuming arguendo that they remain loyal Republicans, the notion that Potts hurt Kilgore cannot be sustained. I leave it to self-styled "moderates" to look within themselves to inform the reader whether such treachery among their fellows explains the Potts vote.

With that having been said, however, it seems clear to me that our squishy friends --- self-styled Republican "moderates" --- are dead wrong when they assert that the GOP was hurt by Conservatives, at least in Prince William.

The hard truth for our less-stern friends is that the unabashed Conservatives on the state-wide ticket led and won in Prince William. And they won not because of the drop-off in votes from Governor to the other two offices --- in 2001, about 1100 fewer people voted for LG in Prince William, about the same number as in 2005; in 2001, the drop-off for AG was larger than in 2005, notwithstanding a growing electorate --- but by out-polling every candidate in every other race. Was it tighter than in past years? To be sure. After all, Prince William County gave George Allen and Jim Gilmore 12,000 and 14,000 vote margins in their contests. Even Mark Early carried the County by more than 3,000 votes over Marky Mark ... er, the Boyish Governor.

So what is the problem in Prince William? Let me say that, first, I believe that there is less of a problem than the media would have you think. The simple fact in Prince William is that unabashed Conservatives carried the day. Candidates who "moderated" or more accurately, "liberalized," their message lost.

But where does the fault for Kilgore's defeat lie?

I have said elsewhere, and have not been persuaded otherwise, that it lies primarily with the candidate himself. Kilgore was clearly a drag on the ticket, throughout Northern Virginia, and perhaps even elsewhere (I haven't examined that data). And I have a sneaking suspicion --- I cannot back it up with polling data --- that it was his tax referenda plan on transportation that hurt him most among Northern Virginia voters. Could he have won here? Probably not. But we've "been there; done that" on so-called transportation tax referenda, in 2002.

Northern Virginia expects its leaders to lead, and its legislators to legislate. As I said at the time, such proposals are simply political cover for craven politicians who refuse to make the hard decisions they're elected to make. In this particular case, they constitute an excuse to do nothing about Northern Virginia's transportation woes, and the despicable failure of Richmond politicians to allocate fairly transportation dollars to Northern Virginia. To be sure, this proposal is a pet project of Northern Virginia developer and business interests, and was sufficient to garner their support in the election, but I have to wonder whether Kilgore's woeful drop-off from the down-ticket races is directly traceable to this problem.

Of course, virtually any miscue is sufficient when you're talking about the small margin in Prince William. But I believe that the argument is sustainable when you look to Kilgore's performance relative to Bolling and McDonnell throughout Northern Virginia.

And where does the fault for the relatively poor (relative to prior years) performance of the GOP in Prince William lie? Certainly, there are some macro-trends beyond the control of we mere functionaries to affect. Kilgore's drag on the GOP was beyond our control. Equally beyond our control was the perceived or actual weakness of the President and the GOP-controlled Congress. Likewise, County demographic trends and growth have cut into the GOP margin.

But what can we control? The simple fact of the matter is that the GOP flourished in Prince William County when it was a party of the grass-roots, governed from the bottom up with strong leadership in the County GOP Committee.

That is not the current state of the County GOP. With increasing electoral success, we have witnessed broader ambitions among elected officials. I've said elsewhere that one of the benefits of having a successful political operation is your ability to elect any idiot on the party's ticket; one of its pitfalls is that you frequently do. Lack of ability, however, is hardly sufficient to temper ambition, and with that ambition has come a desire on the part of some elected officials and their functionaries to dominate the County GOP. And while a healthy interaction between elected officials and County GOP activists is both necessary and desired, it is not healthy for the GOP as an institution when it becomes nothing but a vehicle for personal ambition.

Yet, sad to say, that seems to be the current state of affairs in the County GOP. The personally ambitious seem to have their loyal sycophants, including some who have, in the past, been smart enough to eschew such cults of personality. Moreover, the County GOP currently suffers under pathetically weak leadership. This is not simply a matter of lacking respect for the County Chairman, though one wonders if he ever would have held the post had he been required to run for it afresh, rather than as an incumbent succeeding to the job upon his predecessor's resignation. It is a question of performance. As an example of that lack of performance, one of the best grass-roots activities that the old County GOP did was a Labor Day picnic, one which has not been held for the last two years.

I certainly cannot venture a guess as to what steps need to be taken to revitalize the Prince William County GOP. But while things are not as bad as the media would have you believe, neither are they as good as they could be, or should be.

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