For the second time in four years, Republicans and conservatives may find their remedy for the depression of a presidential election downer in the energetic resilience of the Republican Party of Virginia. Although Virginia Republicans suffered another extremely painful setback in 2012 when Obama again carried the tradition-rich state that gave us Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, they are again ready to roar back in the gubernatorial and other state office elections that always occur in Virginia (and New Jersey) in the year following a presidential election.
I was a delegate at the Virginia GOP Convention that was just held in Richmond on May 18, just as I was four years ago. This year's convention provided encouraging signs that the 2013 Virginia elections may produce the same kind of boost for Republican fortunes that occurred in 2009.
The 2009 convention followed on the heels of Obama's first election, during the period when the liberal and international media were all but canonizing this political charlatan and when Republican and conservative spirits were suffering from a post-election hangover. But the spunk and fighting spirit displayed by Virginia Republicans at that convention ignited the comeback that soon produced the GOP's devastating defeat of the Obama Democrats in the 2010 congressional elections.
The 2009 convention not only provided a rousing sendoff for the stunningly successful gubernatorial campaign of Bob McDonnell – who beat his Democrat opponent by a landslide 17 percentage points – but provided a spectacular liftoff for the meteoric political career of current GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, who was then seeking the GOP nomination for State Attorney General. Cuccinelli's impressive organizational ability, and the zeal and determination of his followers, was colorfully displayed by the bright yellow array of Gadsen Flags -- with the "Don't Tread on Me" slogan that was to become the clarion cry of the Tea Party – that dominated the convention floor. Spurred on by the enthusiasm, unity, and esprit de corps of the convention, McDonnell, Cuccinelli, and Lieutenant Governor candidate Bill Bolling went on to sweep to victory in a statewide Republican landslide. Coupled with Chris Christie's gubernatorial victory in New Jersey, the success of the Virginia GOP in the 2009 elections provided the national GOP with the spirit, optimism, and momentum that carried through to the spectacular congressional victories of 2010.
Just as in 2009 with Bob McDonnell, this year's Virginia Republicans were solidly united and enthusiastic in support of Cuccinelli's nomination as their candidate for Governor. So overwhelming was party and conservative support for Cuccinelli that two-term Lieutenant Governor Bolling withdrew from the race, complaining that the party should have held an open primary instead of a convention to select the nominee. In fact, a primary would not only have required Cuccinelli to waste substantial resources in achieving a near certain victory over Bolling, but the primary would also have produced a counterproductive divisive element within the party.
The convention in Richmond last Saturday left no doubt of the deep and broad support and undisputed leadership position that Cuccinelli enjoys among Virginia Republicans and conservatives. His acceptance speech, which touted his initiative in taking the lead among state attorneys general in bringing the first lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare and his fierce defense of the U.S. Constitution, repeatedly brought the house down. At the same time, he carefully balanced his commitment to conservative principles and limited government by emphasizing the substantial and difficult responsibilities he has shouldered as an activist Attorney General in a state where that position is one of considerable power and responsibility. And in an era when a telegenic and likeable candidate spouse is more important than it should be, the charm and intelligence displayed by Teiro Cuccinelli in her convention speech introducing her husband confirmed that she will be a valuable campaign asset. All in all, Cuccinelli and his campaign staff's convention performance was highly auspicious. My only disappointment -- purely aesthetic -- was that only a smattering of Gadsen Flags were on display, rather than the waving field of yellow banners that were in conspicuous evidence in 2009.
Notwithstanding Cuccinelli's uncontested nomination, the spirited battles for the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor nominations provided the convention with considerable suspense and surprise.
Mark Obenshain, an articulate and experienced state senator and attorney, edged out his comparably accomplished opponent, Rob Bell, in a hard-fought battle for the AG nomination. Obenshain is not only a principled and thoughtful conservative legislator and attorney, but proved himself a polished and effective speaker. Moreover, he holds a distinguished family pedigree in Virginia Republican politics. His father was the late Richard Obenshain, who was a leading figure in the initial emergence of conservative influence in Virginia politics, but who was tragically killed in an airplane crash while running for the U.S. Senate in 1978. To the great cost of Virginia and national conservatives, his place was taken by serial GOP apostate John Warner, whose perfidies included a critical vote that helped Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden to maliciously subvert the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork.
It was the 7-person contest for the Lieutenant Governor nomination, however, that produced the most suspense and surprise at the convention. Considering the modest powers and responsibilities of that post – although with an even split in the Virginia Senate, it does have the tie-breaking vote on some critical laws – it is remarkable that such an accomplished field of candidates campaigned so vigorously (and expensively) for the nomination. The candidates included the chairmen of two major counties' boards of supervisors, two prominent state legislators, and a highly successful and well-funded hi-tech businessman.
But it was a candidate that many delegates (myself included) gave no chance of winning who not only won, but did so rather decisively. E.W. Jackson is an African-American preacher and one-time lawyer – not to mention Marine Corps veteran -- who earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School before studying theology at Harvard Divinity. He is a genuinely charismatic orator with the ability to move a political crowd to raptures reminiscent of a revival meeting. I have seen him do it before, and he did it again at the convention, bringing the delegates to their feet again and again with a passionate delivery of a straightforward, uncompromising testimony to constitutional and conservative fundamentals. Beyond that, his convention campaign was well-organized as well as high-spirited and determined. He led the vote on every ballot of the convention's rather elaborate elimination process, and pulled off a most impressive victory, especially for a long-shot African-American candidate seeking the votes of an overwhelmingly white-conservative convention.
Whether Jackson's spot on the ticket will provide a boost or a burden for the Cuccinelli campaign remains to be seen. As an articulate and highly principled champion of conservative social values, including his especially admirable and uncompromising moral opposition to the oxymoron of so-called same-sex "marriage," he will surely attract the shrill denunciations and calumnies of the liberal media and the well-funded Democrat attack machine (indeed, even as I write, the administration media outlet, Politico, has already posted its first nasty screed against Mr. Jackson). Further, as a political neophyte whose only prior campaigns were long-shot intra-GOP efforts that did not invite close examination of his background, Jackson has not yet been closely vetted. The Democrat opposition researchers will surely scour his background with a fine-tooth comb, and will seek to portray even the slightest ancient peccadillo as a fatal flaw. But given the egregious vulnerability of the Democrat's sleazy gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Republicans shouldn't lose much sleep over such hypothetical concerns as to Mr. Jackson.
Indeed, the potential positives Jackson brings to the ticket could far outweigh the potential negatives. For one thing, his indisputably inspirational speaking skills will motivate the party faithful and help assure and expand the all-out support of core conservatives for the ticket. In an off-year election, where the influence of the hard-core party elements is magnified, this factor could be especially critical. Additionally, the presence of an articulate African-American on the Republican ticket should help to deflect the canard that the GOP is somehow inhospitable to blacks and other minorities when, as shown by Jackson's defeat of a strong field of white opponents, the party sometimes bends over backwards in its efforts to gain the votes of persistently hostile minority voters. Finally, there is the possibility that Jackson might even help expand the GOP's consistently miniscule percentage of the black vote. Admittedly, black conservative Republicans have generally had little success in persuading reflexively Democratic black voters to vote Republican. On the other hand, South Carolina's Tea Party-backed black conservative Tim Scott – recently appointed to a vacant U.S. Senate seat by Governor Nikki Haley – was overwhelmingly elected to a House seat, although his district was heavily Republican. Given Jackson's exceptional speaking skills, and his potential ability to draw the support of the many black religious conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage and on-demand abortion, there is a real possibility that he could significantly expand the currently negligible GOP share of the black vote in Virginia. Given the close balance in the currently "purple" Commonwealth electorate, if Jackson is able to expand the GOP's black vote by even a few percentage points, it could conclusively clinch another GOP sweep in the state office elections.
Of course, the glaring contrast in the caliber and qualifications of the parties' gubernatorial candidates strongly points to that result in any event.
The Democrats' embrace of the boorish and sleazy mountebank Terry McAuliffe as their candidate for governor reflects either a desperate void of plausible candidates or the conviction that, if Obama can carry Virginia for the Democrats, anyone can. A more flawed candidate to take on Ken Cuccinelli would be difficult to imagine.
Cuccinelli is a rock-solid embodiment of Virginia values with the exact kind of experience and credentials that will make him a superbly qualified Governor. He earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Virginia and both a J.D. and M.A. from George Mason University, giving him not only a superior education, but a Virginia education. He has won three elections to the Virginia Senate, where he established a strong reputation as a sold conservative and as a champion of individual liberties, property rights, Second Amendment rights, and the protection of traditional marriage. He then won state-wide election to Attorney General with 58% of the vote, and went on to serve as one of the most courageous, principled, and prominent state attorney generals in the nation. On all relevant criteria – leadership, experience, qualifications, accomplishment, principles, and policy – Cuccinelli is a perfect fit for Governor of Virginia.
Conversely, if one were to imagine a perfectly unsuitable candidate for Virginia's Governor, someone in the mold of Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe would come immediately to mind. His prominence in public life derives almost entirely from his notoriety as a fundraiser and political organizer for D.C.-oriented Democrats as well as his mastery of crony capitalism. He is utterly devoid of government experience, unless the bizarrely named position of Ambassador to the Taejon Expo of South Korea could be counted as such. The results of his one venture into Virginia elective politics were utterly ignominious. He lost the Democratic primary to Creigh Deeds by 23 points, who then lost to Bob McDonnell by 17 points. Why he expects to do better this time around is anybody's guess.
The title McAuliffe chose for his own autobiography (co-authored with another writer) aptly describes a career and character which were suitable for his position as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee but which are blatantly unsuitable for the post occupied by such giants as Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Monroe: " What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals." Among other things gleefully admitted in this egocentric reminiscence was his outrageously churlish and boorish treatment of his own wife during her pregnancies, including abandoning her in the delivery room in 2005 to attend a party for a Washington Post columnist; engaging in a shouting match with the anesthesiologist over health-care reform when his wife again was in labor in 1993, resulting in his ejection from the delivery room; and, while driving his wife and newborn child home just after another infant's delivery, he left his wife waiting in the car in tears while he made a "quick little drop-by" at a Democratic fundraiser. His excuse for the latter exercise in appalling loutishness was that it meant "a million bucks for the Democratic Party."
If you were the most ruthless campaign attack operative, you couldn't credibly make this stuff up about your opponent (there is much, much more, but this post is already on the long side). But Terry McAuliffe's value system is so warped, and he is so patently deprived of any normal sense of decorum and decency, that he raffishly recounts these boorish episodes like some nightclub comedian. It is doubtful that Virginia's women voters will be amused.
The Virginia Republican Convention gave Ken Cuccinelli and his conservative ticket an energetic boost as they commence their campaign in this critical off-year election. And with an opponent who seems custom-made to offend and alienate the Virginia electorate, prospects for victory are indeed propitious.