Something very interesting is happening in Virginia. Even though he has yet to go on air (although that changes today), Webb might already be ahead of Allen. Electoral Vote.com, which has just launched a 2006 edition
, actually currently lists Webb ahead of Allen by averaging the latest polls from Mason-Dixon
. Now, think what you want of the Zogby polls. Personally, I don't put much of any weight in them, but I am willing to keep an open mind to new polling techniques (at the same time, IO don't want such techniques to give us false hope). However, even with the Zogby poll aside, a look under the hood of the Mason-Dixon poll reveals some very, very encouraging news for Webb.
Specifically, I am referring to the favorable ratings of Allen and Webb in the Mason-Dixon poll. Webb has a 3-1 positive ratio in this category, at 28% favorable and 7% unfavorable. Allen, by contrast, has only a 3-4 positive ratio, at 41% favorable, 31% unfavorable. Numbers like these strongly suggest that Webb will not only pull ahead of Allen, but comfortably pull ahead of Allen once they have comparable name ID's. The only way for this to not happen is for Allen to go nuclear on Webb, and do it now. However, to date he has done nothing of the sort, which at least partially accounts for why this race is so competitive. If trends continue like this... well, basically no one can defeat a well-known candidate with a positive, 3-1 favorable ratio, and Jim Webb will win this campaign easily.
However, there is a hitch in all of this for Webb. Namely, he will never have equal name ID to Allen during this campaign. If he gets his name ID up to 70% among the electorate, he will have done a remarkable job. George Allen has been both Governor of Virginia and a Senator from Virginia, and he currently only has a 72% name ID in the state according to the Mason-Dixon poll. Allen's name ID peaked at 83% in early November of 2000 just before the election where he knocked off Robb, and only ten months after he stepped down as Governor. Webb will simply not be able to match that. Thus, in order to win, Webb will have to rely on a large portion of the electorate being willing to vote not for Webb, but rather to vote for a generic Democrat. If people are not willing to go with the Democratic Party in Virginia no matter who the nominee is, Jim Webb cannot win this election.
This is why I find Webb's new bio ad to be a little baffling
. Not only does the ad never mention that Webb is a Democrat, it prominently features Ronald Reagan in both words and images. This may appeal to some voters, but I have serious doubts about its' effectiveness when it comes to actually getting people to vote for Webb. What happens when people go into the voting booth ready to dump Allen, but then discover that the nice-seeming alternative that is Jim Webb is actually a Democrat? Without any branding of the Democratic Party image in Virginia, how many people will Webb end up losing in the voting booth itself?
My point is this: while all candidates need bio ads in order to raise their name ID and present a warm, fuzzy side to the electorate, in order to knock off incumbents this year, challengers are going to need large numbers of voters to be willing to vote for the Democratic Party itself. The incumbent rule is weakening
primarily because people do not even know who incumbents are anymore, much less the people who are challenging incumbents. News programs spend less time devoted to actual news, DVR's are quickly on the rise in American homes, and when it comes to local political news we have experienced a nearly complete market failure nationwide. In order to win, Democratic candidates must not just brand themselves as viable alternatives to incumbents in an anti-incumbent year, but they also must brand the Democratic Party as a viable alternative to the Republican trifecta. Failure to do otherwise will result in a very disappointing 2006 for Democrats around the nation.
If candidates do not brand themselves as Democrats in their advertising campaigns in 2006, they will hurt both themselves and other Democrats both and up and down-ticket. To win in 2006, all Democratic challengers will need a huge portion of their votes to come from people who are willing to give the Democratic Party a try after years of Republican mismanagement. We should not be fooled into thinking that we can win purely on a candidate-by-candidate basis. Either we become willing to say we are Democrats, or we better be willing to suffer under another two years of Republican "governance."