As readers know, this is a lawyer blog that is completely a-political, or at least I try to keep it a-political.
The Office of the Attorney General is however very important to qui tam litigation under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, and for that reason I wade into the Attorney General’s race every four years. So today’s installment in that series will focus on how the race is shaping up so far and how the two candidates — Republican Mark Obenshain and Democrat Mark Herring — are faring.
As recent posts have indicated, any Democrat has a real uphill battle in the race for AG of the Commonwealth. Virginian’s have favored Republican Attorney Generals in the modern era by a wide margin and that’s a fact. So any Democratic candidate starts with the deck stacked against him or her.
On top of that, Obenshain is well-regarded throughout the Commonwealth, has extensive experience running for office, and is generally acknowledged to be a likable guy.
When you add all of those factors up, it becomes clear that this race is Obenshain’s to lose. He could lose the race by, for example, not staying on-message. He could lose the race by committing some horrible gaffe, or by simply not maintaining his likeability as a candidate. Based on his performance so far in this race, Obenshain is unlikey to do any of those things. His communications have remained focused on his strengths and on his key message and on his vision for the AG’s office. It is also important that he has not allowed himself to become unlikable by lashing out at Herring.
Obenshain’s strategy, in other words, should be focused on not losing the election, and that is exactly what he has done.
It is admittedly much tougher to devise a strategy for the Herring camp, but so far Herring hasn’t even bothered to be try. In fact, Herring has broken several important time-honored rules of politics that are almost as immutable as the laws of physics, and he doesn’t seem to understand that….
The first immutable law of political physics is that you don’t spit into the wind of the electorate, no matter how much you may believe in something. The second immutable law is that a winning candidate formulates a message that will resonate with the electorate, and then he or she sticks to it. To say that Herring hasn’t followed these basic rules is an understatement. In fact, he seems to running for Attorney General of Maryland, or Massachuessets or New York because he has continually made his support of marriage equality for same-sex couples a centerpeice of his campaign, which is fine if he wants to do that, but it will not help him get elected.
The very best gift a politician can have is a knack for intuitively knowing what thier electorate will think or feel about an issue. Mark Warner is one of the most gifted politicians of the modern era in this regard. But if you don’t have that, the next best thing is to be smart enough to look at the data available to you and to figure out what your electorate thinks about an issue, preferable before you begin formulating your message. If it is clear that the electorate isn’t on-board with how you feel about one issue or another, you don’t talk about it, at least not if you want to get elected.
You don’t need a Ph.D. in physics to understand the way the wind blows here in the Commonwealth, because the Virginia Constitution was amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman by a popular vote just a couple of years ago. In fact, it passed by a margin of 57% to 43%. Had the amendment passed by a narrow margin, maybe I could see Herring making this a part of his campaign, but that is not what happened.
Herring has done this on any number of other issues important to Virginia votes — gun control, right to work, and other important Virginia institutions that are direct results of our unique culture…I am not sure where this disconnect is coming from, maybe from the McAullife bunch?
Nor has Herring fared any better with the second part of a winning strategy. His message out of the gate was one of removing “politics” from the AG’s office, but his confused messaging since then has made it clear that doesn’t intend to even do that…as my old buddy D.J. Spiker over at BearingDrift pointed out recently, you can’t simultaneously say you will remove the politics from the office while issuing statements like this:
As Attorney General, I will protect the civil rights of all Virginians and use the powers of the office to promote equality while we work to change Virginia’s current law which prohibits same-sex marriage.
Much more of this and I will be prepared to go ahead and declare Obenshain the winner of the AG’s race — and I do, by the way, think Obenshain will make a fine Attorney General…normally I end my posts with an invitation to stay tuned for more developments, but I am not sure I can say that for future posts about the AG’s race, because it is shaping up to be a rather lopsided affair come November…