Who Does Bowerbank's Departure Help?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The convention wisdom appears to be that Jon Bowerbank's surprise departure from the LG race, combined with his (possibly even more surprising) endorsement of his former rival Jody Wagner, is basically an unmitigated positive for Wagner. Indeed, last night at the Arlington Democratic Committee's JJ dinner, the Wagner camp appeared pleased. But here's the funny thing: the other candidate who appeared to be pleased was Mike Signer (note: for his part, Bowerbank appeared completely at peace with his decision).

How can both Jody Wagner and Mike Signer be pleased about Jon Bowerbank dropping out of the race? Here's how I see Bowerbank's departure potentially benefiting Signer and Wagner, respectively.

First, to the extent that there's been an "establishment" candidate in this race, it's clearly been Wagner, with her endorsements by seemingly every elected Democrat in the Commonwealth, with the exceptions of Senators Chap Petersen and Phil Puckett (both of whom supported Jon Bowerbank). And, to the extent there was an "anti-establishment" vote - and, admittedly, that might prove to be exceedingly small on June 9 - it was split between the two "non-establishment" candidates in the race, Mike Signer and Jon Bowerbank. Now, with Bowerbank out, Signer has at least a chance of becoming the alternative, non-establishment, netroots alternative for anyone who doesn't want Wagner. That's a clear plus for Signer, but how much of a plus depends on the size of the "anti-establishment" vote come June 9. It could be tiny, it could be medium, or it could be large, I really don't know.

Second, there's the issue of gender. Previously, there were two men and one woman in the LG race. Now, there's just one man and one woman (no, Bob McDonnell, I'm not talking about your definition of marriage - ha). To the extent that there's a share of the electorate supporting Wagner because they want a woman on the Democratic ticket this year (there could be only a few of these folks or, theoretically, a lot of them), it's unlikely that Bowerbank's departure from the race will increase Wagner's vote total on June 9. From Signer's perspective, he is no longer splitting the "non-gender-motivated" vote - if there is such a thing - with Bowerbank. That appears to be a net plus for Signer, although who knows how large of one. (note: personally, I believe - strongly - in voting for the best qualified person regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, region, etc., but in reality I suspect that there are voters who may be swayed by these factors...)

Third, it's a simple matter of the proverbial "political oxygen in the room" - money, enthusiasm, volunteers, etc. - now divided by two people, not three. Theoretically, this gives both Wagner and Signer a cleaner shot at reaching undecided voters with just 24 days left in the race. However, I tend to think it might disproportionately help Signer, the underdog candidate who doesn't have the institutional support Wagner does. We'll see. (note: Jody Wagner remains the strong favorite by almost all accounts to win this race)

Finally, on the plus side for Wagner is Bowerbank's endorsement. How much weight that will carry, particularly in Bowerbank's base of southwest Virginia, is hard to know. Over the next 24 days, Wagner and Signer will be able to make their cases to Bowerbank's voters, however many of those there were, but Wagner will have the advantage of being able to say "endorsed by Jon Bowerbank" to those voters. That's got to mean something, although how much I don't know.

On balance, I'd conclude that Jon Bowerbank's departure from the LG race is not an unmitigated plus for either Mike Signer or Jody Wagner. Having said that, I lean towards believing that it might give the underdog (Signer) a slightly better shot in the last three weeks. We'll see.

By the way, before I leave this subject, there's one candidate who almost certainly won't be helped by Bowerbank's departure, and that's Creigh Deeds. To the extent that Bowerbank was going to spend significant sums of money getting out the vote in southwestern and rural Virginia - Creigh Deeds' base - that should have helped Deeds. Now, Bowerbank's GOTV effort won't be there, and an underfunded Deeds campaign won't benefit from it. Team Deeds can't be too thrilled about that.

P.S. On a personal note, I consider Jon a friend, commend him for getting involved in public life, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors!