Heads Up — An Impending Disaster in Virginia

The Ralph Northam for Governor campaign is a disaster and heading for defeat in November.

The “Hey, I’m a doctor and a nice guy message” is weak at best, and being completely drowned out by a wave of Gillespie media buys that effectively attack Northam’s credibility and experience.

These ads are being played on repeat throughout Virginia, particularly in the Richmond and SW parts of the state.

The Northam campaign has failed miserably to respond in force to these accusations and while the polls shift closer, for the vast majority of the undecided voters the only message that is being punched through is that Northam is a doctor and incompetent at governance. Northam does have an ad attacking “Enron Ed” up for being a lobbyist, the first version of which contained a list of companies that Gillespie lobbied for, that included several of Virginia’s largest employers. gross negligence. Second version of the ad, is apparently a spin on this much more effective Warner ad from 2014.

It’s decent… but doesn’t carry the weight and certainly not getting the media points that Gillespie’s ads are.

Paid television media isn’t everything though, and an effective field campaign tapping into energy on the left combined with positive earned media can overcome even the biggest media buys.

That’s not happening. In an admittedly unscientific survey of friends throughout the state — the only people who have been contacted are strong dem supporters living in strong dem neighborhoods such as Arlington and Alexandria.

In my Richmond neighborhood, which contains a relatively dense and walkable mix of swing, base and irregular voters. There is absolutely zero evidence of a Northam campaign beyond one neighbor who apparently drove to the campaign office downtown to pick up a yard sign. No phone calls, no canvassers, no mailings, no digital ads and very little earned media, much less net-positive earned media. Basically no Northam presence at all in a neighborhood that should be near the top of most Dem targeting operations.

Most people here do not know who either candidate is without prompt, but when asked about by name, more often than Lt. Governor, or candidate for Governor, Northam is “the guy who gave a million dollar check to a fake chinese company.” Gillespie is identified as a lobbyist but for the most part it’s simply the fact that he’s a Republican. Certainly a tarnished brand on the national stage and in Northern Virginia, but not anymore so than Democrats are with with swing voters throughout the rest of the state.

The Gillespie playbook is pretty simple, define your opponent before they can define themselves. Some of you may remember the somewhat surprising mid-summer attack blitz that Obama launched against Romney in 2012. Romney never emerged from that hole. This is not much different, just scaled down to a governor’s race. Northam may have started out with a sizable advantage, in a climate that should certainly favor a Democrat, not to mention a decent and thoughtful man with the experience to take over as Governor. The Northam lead has all but evaporated and undecideds are moving towards Gillespie at more than twice the rate as Northam.

Ralph Northam’s current trajectory will end in defeat. Virginia will be a complete disaster that could end up being on par with what happened in 2016.

What Northam needs to do…

  1. Fire or demote the people running this operation, or at least anyone on the campaign that is not screaming ‘fire!’ This campaign has failed to capture the energy, attention and money that should be relatively low hanging fruit in this environment. Whatever they’re doing — It’s not working. I’m guessing the problem has more to do with the candidate than the staff, but can only swap one at this point.
  2. Bring on a real campaign committee. Whatever the campaign is currently doing to raise national attention, and more importantly $$$, is apparently not working. There’s no reason, not even Gillespie’s deep corporate ties, that the Northam campaign should not be flush with cash right now and able to not only effectively fire back, but bury Gillespie in his own resume. Tons of big names looking to push their own brand as 2020 looms… the right pitch should bring an allstar lineup to fundraise and energize Democrats nationally to support the Northam campaign.
  3. Hire a team that understands Virginia and knows how to execute. I honestly have no recollection of a Northam specific campaign for LG in 2013 but i’m guessing it was mostly holding hands w/ the McAuliffe led coordinated campaign. The Mook led operation that only managed 47.5% of the vote against right-wing nutjob Ken Cuccinelli. That’s not good enough. McAuliffe, tho flawed in his own ways, was a much more dynamic candidate. While the model for victory might appear similar in that the shifts and trends in voter patterns have mostly continued in a linear fashion, (northern virginia becoming more liberal, SW virginia becoming less Democrat, etc) it’s not a 1:1 and certainly not in terms of midterm turnout. Margin for error using the 2013 model is slim to none, and if that is indeed the approach that’s being recycled, Democrats will lose. I would love to see a customized strategy based upon a rather uniquely likable, yet experienced, candidate such as Northam… but at this point I’d settle for just seeing them start to execute the basics. Such as…
  4. A field operation… no one has seen you guys. And don’t say it’s a highly targeted, precision operation… it’s not. A good field operation isn’t based off a CIA sniper approach but an all-out land invasion. Don’t have the resources — in this environment, that’s on you.
  5. Reaching out to the black vote before election… Key aspect of field which deserves it’s own bullet point. Hillary did surprisingly well turning out the black vote in Virginia. Levar Stoney and McAuliffe did an excellent job directing and harnessing resources. Off-year elections are notoriously difficult in this community and based on what i’m hearing there has been virtually no outreach. Relying exclusively on election day GOTV is a huge gamble given the dynamics affecting the black community right now. Yea they hate Donald Trump, but there’s also distrust of the entire political system that will minimize the effectiveness of ‘grab-n-go’ election day operations
  6. ATTACK WITH VIGOR. Donald Trump is president. Force Gillespie’s hand. Nail his ass to the MAGA cross. Doing so in a stupid debate that no one watches doesn’t count for anything. Gillespie is running an unbelievably racist ad, that is generously being referred to as a dog whistle. People are sick of the divisiveness. So nail Gillespie for it. Bury him w/ Trump ads tying him to it.
  7. HAVE A FUCKING MESSAGE FOR YOURSELF. It appears Northam campaign is basically borrowing a page from Hillary in the blandness of narrative. Ralph Northam is an experienced leader. He is a doctor and a nice guy. Unfortunately, Gillespie is three steps ahead w/ attack ads that effectively knock down the core of Northam’s outreach. Honestly a majority of what i know about Northam’s policy stance is from the primary where he also didn’t have much of a message much beyond Lt Gov’s become Govs… I know he is for some unknown reason, a Democrat in favor of putting natural gas pipelines through our forests. (WTF, Ralph we’ll tackle that one later.) Regardless of what the campaign’s message is… Find something (NEW) and mix it in w/ the attacks… inexact science but in this election, if you can somehow pull together your fundraising operation to actually gets some points up, i’d do a 1/3 rotation… with the other two blasting Gillespie for being a trump lieutenant putting a divisive agenda over the state’s prosperity… (yes, this is part of the previous point, but just in case you missed it, f’ing bury Gillespie next to Trump.)

As I mentioned earlier, the Gillespie ads right now are far more damaging than the polls indicate. Northam needs to stand up right away and start firing. No more saving for October.

Come out with your guns blazing. Go to the line, perhaps flirt with crossing it… even if the attack is slightly unfair, similar to Gillespie’s China ad, put it out there and let Ed explain that he never actually held a tiki torch while praising Trump. Fire up the base. Raise hell and money. Steal adderall from an underpaid field staffer, chug some beers and go out on stage and yell that you’re not going to stand idly by while Virginia elects another Donald Trump. That we as a country and as one of the most prosperous states are better than that. We might have our differences but we don’t need another Trump/Gillespie type and his divisive, corrosive approach here in Virginia.

Maybe don’t do parts of that adderall/beer thing, but find some energy and conviction… for fucks sake, DO SOMETHING before this turns into another disastrous defeat for Democrats.

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