Monday, October 17, 2005

VA Governor 2005: Presidential Referendum?

Several months ago, I had a conversation with a friend (one commonly referred to here as having an "Oversized Melon" and a "Forest of Back Hair") regarding the upcoming gubernatorial election. One point that he made was the fact that, in the last seven such elections, the party controlling the White House lost the race for the Governor's Mansion in Virginia. I hadn't really given it much thought until I happend upon this article in The Weekly Standard. So, for conversation purposes, I pose the following question: Despite having won Virginia handily in 2004, will President Bush's dismal approval ratings have an impact on the election in November? Interestingly enough, the article mentions two different takes on the historical significance of the questions: Does Virginia's practice of rejecting governors from the party that holds the White House really matter in 2005? Sabato says it doesn't. "It isn't a rule at all," he says. "It's happenstance." Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican from northern Virginia, says it does indeed matter. "Virginia governor's races are in a sense a mid-term election. People give their verdict on the president." Short of a sudden Bush revival, Kilgore better hope Sabato is right and Davis isn't. Now, call me crazy, but I'd call seven consecutive election cycles quite a trend. "Happenstance?" Nice try, Larry.

17 Comments:

At 10/17/2005 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Scott said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10/17/2005 11:43:00 AM, Blogger Hirons said...

This has about as much validity as the idea that the Redskins can predict the winner of a Presidential election by winning or losing the week before an election.

 
At 10/17/2005 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Mitch Cumstein said...

I'm not so sure, Scott. I think the Redskins comparison is apples and oranges.

But let's consider the dynamics here. Dems are angry about the 2004 election (hell, many are still mad about the 2000 election) and may see this as an opportunity to fight back. Bush has angered fiscal conservatives with his spending spree and social conservatives with the Miers appointment. Now, the Kilgore campaign did make a good decision in distance itself from Karl Rove. But I really think that, the more folks associate Kilgore with Bush, the harder a sell it's going to be. In the end, I have to side with Tom Davis on this. Many Virginians will "give their verdict on the President."

 
At 10/17/2005 03:08:00 PM, Blogger Hirons said...

Then how do explain the NJ Governor's race tightening up - one poll finding it to be a dead heat?

Is it really logical to think that the people of Virginia (a solid Red State) would express their frustration with the national leadership by electing the other party to the governor's mansion?

btw - Mitch -when are you going to email me regarding MBA info. I'd email you, but I've lost your email address.

 
At 10/17/2005 04:12:00 PM, Blogger Mitch Cumstein said...

It's a good question, Scott. But the fact that it has happened seven consecutive times makes it appear to be more than a simple statistical anomally. The comparison with New Jersey is interesting. I hadn't really thought about that. But, consider our proximity to Washington. Particularly those of us who live in NoVa. It's often very difficult for us to take Washington out of politics, more so here than in other areas of the country. I mean, outside of the Potomac News, the Washington Post is my local paper (Sorry, I've just never liked the Times, probably because they don't have Tony and Wilbon).

Virginia is, of course, a red state. But elections are decided by who's motivated and for what reasons. The sad reality for Republicans is that, if every eligible voter actually voted, we'd never have a Republican President. Ever. The population in high-density areas that typicall poll Democratic would consistently put their candidate over the top. But that's not what happens. This last election was billed as having the highest turnout in a generation, and it was what, 60%? That still means that 4 out of 10 voters stayed home. Considering the state of both the country and the world at the time of the election, that's just absurd.

So the question for us in Virginia is: "Who's motivated to go to the polls and who decides to sit this one out?" To me, it seems very logical that those dissatisfied with the status quo would be the most motivated to vote. But are we, as a state, unhappy with the Warner record in VA or with the Bush record in Washington? Again, a question worth pondering, though recent polls make the answer pretty obvious.

In the end, I think this election comes down to packaging. If Kilgore can convince voters that A) He's not Bush and B) Kaine's not Warner, he wins. If he can't, he's done. Last week, I saw two ads on television within a very short span: 1) The "Stanley" ad, which looks eerily like the "Swift Boat" ads from 2004, and 2) A simple ad featuring none other than Mark Warner talking up Kaine's roll over the last four years. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't like those odds. But, you've got to play to win, and it's anyone's guess who will play this time around and who will just stay home.

 
At 10/17/2005 05:05:00 PM, Blogger Hirons said...

Your comments about voter turnout is alittle idealist. Sub- 60% voter turnout really doesn't bother me much. A majority of the population of this country can't even name the Vice President of the Unitied States let alone their own Governor. If you're not willing to at least know the name of the canidates and do at least 3 minutes of research on candidates prior to pulling a lever I really don't want you voting. (Let me save myself to say everyone eligible has a right to vote and there should be no testing, poll taxing or any other limitation placed on opportunity to vote - no matter how mis-informed).

I'd still prefer to see deeper information before I label the stat off as a anything more than an anomally. For example take a look at the last 7 candidates for Governor from each party and the dynamics of the race.

For example the '97 race was won by having nothing to do with what was going on at the national level. Gilmore won on the No Car Tax gimic. How could you say Warner was elected based on backlash to Bush in '01? He was elected 3 months after 9/11. Bush's approval ratings were the strongest of his Presidency.

 
At 10/17/2005 05:50:00 PM, Blogger Mitch Cumstein said...

The Warner analogy is a good one, Scott. Warner was a backlash against Gilmore and his "gimic," certianly not against Bush. Make no mistake, I'm not subscribing necessarily to the theory. But I do think that it makes for an interesting discussion.

Since you bring up his name, here's hoping that Jim Gilmore never runs for elected office again. As a party, when can do a heck of a lot better. I had a very interesting and enlightening conversation with my uncle from Abingdon this weekend. I'll probably go into much more detail about this later in the week, but he did say something pertinent to this conversation. On the subject of Governors past and present, he noted that Warner has been a much better Governor than Gilmore was. That may not sound all that shocking, unless you know my uncle (right Jane B.?). Point is, here's one of the most conservative people I've ever met saying he'd choose Warner over Gilmore. Kinda turned my whole world upside-down.

 
At 10/17/2005 05:52:00 PM, Blogger I'm Not Emeril said...

The most recent Gubernatorial election in Virgina could very well have turned out to be the "exception that proves the rule".

Mark Warner simply ran a better campaign. There was certainly no animosity toward Bush in the Fall of 2001 that gained the win for Warner.

I just returned home, poured myself a nice little glass of Bushmills (a fine Irish Whiskey) and am now settled in to read some fine Virginia Blogs. Otherwise, I suspect a little tedious research would turn up several other instances in those previous seven that hinged on something much more simple than animosity toward the "titular head" of the losing candidates party.

However, this is an intriguing theory, and I do enjoy tedious research...(I suspect you Lawyer types are like that as well). But just not now. I will probably end up looking into it, though.

 
At 10/17/2005 05:57:00 PM, Blogger I'm Not Emeril said...

Sorry, Hirons.
I hadn't read all the way to the bottom before I typed up an almost identical argument against this theory to the one you had previously posted.

(Please don't report me to the plagerism police)

 
At 10/17/2005 07:15:00 PM, Blogger Hirons said...

mc - shhh! don't tell anyone but I tend to agree with your uncle. Not that I think Warner is all that spectacular. However, having spent a number of days over the last couple of months working with the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office I do see the state government is runing more effieciently than it did during the Gilmore years. Thing that he's guilty of is doing it on the backs of taxpayers. He most certainly is taking more of my money than he should be! For that he should never go any further in elective office.

 
At 10/17/2005 08:48:00 PM, Anonymous marty nohe said...

Mitch-

Be careful about how many personal references you post... give away too much and the few people who ready this blog adn DON'T know you you are will figure it out.

Along with my giant melon, my hairy back and smelly underarms, I recall that conversation. I am of the Tom Davis school of thought on this one in that I do believe that seven elections do not constitute a coinidence. Twenty-eight years equala pattern. I agree with Scott that in each and every case, there was something else going on that legitimately explained the result and tht certainly strengthens the "coincidence" argument. But the economist in me believes that numbers don't lie and the statistical sample is now large enough to conclude that the "Governor's Curse" plays at least some small role in the actual outcome.

That being said, I also believe that circumstances can change. I think that this will be the year that the "curse" comes to an end. But I also think that Jerry Kilgore is acutely aware of the "curse" and that he is not ignoring it. Because if he wasn't, he would be taking a lot more pictures standing next to the President. That's not a criticism of the President or of Jerry. I just think that its a smart political calculation.

So let's go out there, vote Kilgore, and prove Larry Sabato right.

 
At 10/17/2005 08:51:00 PM, Anonymous marty nohe said...

Oh, and whomever it is claiming to be one of my many unattractive body parts...

You have never picked up on the fact that my nose is asymmetrical. I'm very disappointed in you.

 
At 10/18/2005 07:59:00 AM, Blogger MR JMS said...

The few readers? Marty we touch almost 200 readers a day!

 
At 10/18/2005 11:18:00 AM, Anonymous marty nohe said...

No, no, you misunderstand me. I KNOW that almost 200 readers a day see the site, and that is a lot. I was saying that at this point, our friend Mitch has revealed enough information about his mild mannered alter ego that only a small few of those 200 readers haven't figured out who he is.

 
At 10/18/2005 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think our identities are the worst kept secrets in VA Politics.

 
At 10/20/2005 10:18:00 AM, Anonymous George Croft said...

60% of registered voters is a bit misleading. A significant percent of registered voters do not live in their precincts anymore. It takes years to purge moved/dead voters from the roles. Motor/Voter has made this situation worse. My slightly educated guess is that 10%-20% of the voters on the registered voter list do not exist in their precincts.

 
At 11/06/2005 12:15:00 PM, Blogger Mimi said...

I think the low approval ratings of Bush are centered mostly on the war, gas prices, and hurricane relief efforts. Two out of three of those are based on foriegn-policy and not really related to VA politics. In other words, I think the reason people dislike Bush are not applicable to an state election. Mid-term congressional elections are different in that they do help shape foriegn policy issues. Therefore, I don't think that the state election on Tuesday will be much impacted by Bush's dismal ratings.

 

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