Behind the Tightening Webb-Allen Race: A Different Virginia
by Matt Stoller, Sun Oct 15, 2006 at 08:03:38 AM EDT
Webb keeps picking up momentum in his race against George Allen. Webb's fundraising - a sore point early on - has been quite successful, and the DSCC has come into the race with a substantial buy. And now Allen is up over Webb by only 49-47, which is within the margin of error.
Allen gets 49 percent, compared with 47 percent for Webb, within the 3 percentage point margin of error for the poll conducted over three days last week. With few respondents saying they are undecided and most seemingly locked in for their candidate, the poll indicates that the candidates' strategies for turning out supporters will be vital and that changes in the national political climate could tilt the outcome.
There are some interesting themes here.
1) Virginia seems to be two separate states, a mid-Atlantic liberal state composed of DC and its suburbs, and an Appalachian culturally conservative region which flows into the upper South. The strategy of appealing to culturally conservative men in traditionally red areas of the state does not work. Allen is leading Webb by 10 points everywhere but Northern Virginia, where Webb is beating Allen 56-42. And among men, Webb loses by 12 points everywhere but Northern Virginia, where he beats Allen by 18. It's ironic that Mudcat Saunders, the consultant who preaches Southern red state culture, is heavily involved with a campaign reliant on a liberal voting bloc to counterbalance his NASCAR voters.
2) Webb is weak among women. Though Democrats usually find an advantage among women in Virginia, Webb does not. Allen's ads have been effective here, but I would say that Webb's failure to effectively handle the issue is equally problematic.
3) The 'Macaca' moment was not the underlying reason for the shift away from Allen, with only 11% of voters saying that this was important to them. This is a referendum on Iraq and Bush, within the confines of a state that is trending blue. The 'Macaca' moment gave voice to the general dissatisfaction with the country, and highlighted Webb's ability to compete with Allen.
4) Webb is more than any candidate this cycle internet-driven. From the draft movement that brought him into the race to his online fundraising to the Macaca imbroglio, the web has been critical to Webb. Um. Ok. Sorry. Obviously there's a whole bunch of targeting and field that has nothing to do with the internet, but Webb's campaign has some important lessons that we need to learn.
Virginia is going to be one of the first Southern states to fall to the Democrats on a consistent basis, because the North of the state is more similar to Maryland or any other coastal mid-Atlantic state than it is to, say, North Carolina. Iraq is a clear signpost for these voters that the Republican Party is simply unacceptable, and as they increase their presence, Virginia will turn to the left. I find it interesting that Webb's appeal as a former Reagan Navy Secretary isn't helping him in the most conservative regions of the state. It's impossible to know, but his record as a conservative-sounding guy might be the bridge that liberal Northern Virginians need to move firmly into the Democratic camp.
Update: Kos says that Mudcat is supposed to keep Southern and SW Virginia close. Sounds reasonable.