A Few Things That Didn't Work Very Well in Virginia Primary '09

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just off the top of my head, here are a few things that I believe didn't work, or at least work very well, in the recent Democratic primary campaign(s) for governor, LG, AG, and House of Delegates. What do you think worked and didn't work (and why)?

1. Endorsements by elected officials, political figures. As far as I can tell, these endorsements - whether we're talking about Brian Schweitzer for Terry McAuliffe, a slew of Delegates for Brian Moran, Mark Warner for Alan Howze, or may other examples - didn't really do much. Frankly, the only endorsement that seemed to really matter in the spring of '09 was the Washington Post's of Creigh Deeds, and even there, I think even that one is somewhat overstated.

2. Straw polls. No sign that these were of any use whatsoever in terms of predicting the final outcome. For instance, Terry McAuliffe won Gerry Connolly's St. Patrick's Day poll and Brian Moran won the Fairfax County Democratic Committee's JJ dinner poll a few days prior to the election. On June 9, Creigh Deeds won Fairfax County with 50% of the vote. Anyways... :)

3. Detailed policy positions and "business plans". As good as many of these were (Terry McAuliffe's business plan was superb, IMHO), it's hard to see how they made much difference in the final outcome of the election. Of the three gubernatorial candidates, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran arguably had the most detailed policy positions and plans, and they finished second and third. So much for people voting on "the issues?"

4. Coverage of polling places on election day. I thought this would be far more important than it apparently turned out to be. As far as I can tell, there was no correlation between who won elections and who had the most polling place coverage on election day.

5. Internal campaign polls. Actually, it turns out that the public polls did better than any of the campaign polls. Both SurveyUSA and PPP, for instance, predicted a big Deeds win (although not by 25 points), while the Moran and McAuliffe campaigns both remained optimistic - in large part based on their "internals" - until the final hours that they could pull off the election.

6. TV advertising. A mixed bag here. Terry McAuliffe spent the most money on TV advertising by far, and he finished second. Creigh Deeds spent much less, and he won 50% of the vote in a three-way race. Is TV advertising, particularly on broadcast as opposed to cable, worth it in terms of "bang for the buck?" I really wonder.

What else would you add to this list? Did signs work or not? What about direct mail, robocalls, social networking, or blogging, for instance?

P.S. One thing that most certainly did work was the primary itself. True, it got rough at times, but in the end Democrats had over 300,000 people participate in their nominee selection process, compared to perhaps 8,000 or so Republicans. Lo and behold, guess who jumped into the lead right after the primary concluded? Hint: it wasn't Bob McDonnell. :)