Friday, August 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Democrats

"Democrat" Congressman Glenn Nye has been working very hard to avoid both constituents and controversy. While Nye hopes to be virtually identical to any Republican candidate he risks the danger of being the "me too" candidate in 2010. And we've seen how that is working out for Creigh Deeds.

Compare pretty boy Glenn Nye to the other Virginia pretty boy, Tom Perriello. There are some obvious similarities. Young, single, Democrats, first-term, Virginians . . . but some obvious differences. Nye took second place behind Aaron Shock while Perriello was fourth out of five. But the differences also involve some substance.

While Glenn Nye is hiding from his constituents, Perriello is visiting even the small rural counties with over twenty town halls. He's up to eighteen so far! And while Nye was both for and against the energy bill, Perriello has taken a strong stand in support. Such a voting record may cost him reelection but he's at least being the type of bold Democrats that most Democratic voters want out of a Congressman.

Two Virginia Democrats, two stories. Here's an interesting twist. Between the two districts, Obama won one and lost the other. Which is which?

Based on their behavior, you might guess that Glenn Nye represents the district that Obama lost. Knowing that he's got a district with more McCain voters than Obama voters, he's trying to be very conservative. And Perriello, the bold Democrat, must represent the Obama district and feel more comfortable in being able to take liberal positions.

You'd be wrong.

Obama won Glenn Nye's 2nd district, although narrowly, with 50.45% of the vote. But in Tom Perriello's 5th district he lost, again narrowly, with 48.29%.

While both of these margins are close, look at the raw votes. In the 2nd, Glenn Nye won but finished 400 votes behind Obama. On the other side, Thelma Drake was 8,239 votes behind John McCain. So there was huge drop-off on the Republican side but Nye was unable to show significant gains ahead of Obama.

Over in the 5th, Perriello ran 1,448 votes ahead of Obama. Virgil Goode was 6,791 votes behind John McCain. A smaller drop-off for the Republicans than in the 2nd, but a better performance by Perriello compared to Glenn Nye.

During the 2008 campaign Perriello was seen as too liberal to win in the 5th without Obama winning the district and providing coattails. The pundits were wrong. Nye ran a more conservative campaign but failed to win over many McCain votes and hung on thanks to Obama winning the district. Somehow Perriello, the guy the pundits said was too liberal, won over more McCain voters than Nye, the guy who the pundits said was doing everything right to win in a swing district.

Eight months into their first term the two are still acting like they did on the campaign trail. Glenn Nye is afraid, very afraid, of anyone thinking he has even a hint of liberalism. It seems like he is convinced that Obama's victory in his district was a fluke and it will go back to having a slight red hue in 2010. That's a very good assumption on his part. But Nye wasn't able to win over many Republicans in 2008 and so he seems to be overcompensating going into 2010. He risks alienating his own base. And "me too" isn't a good Democratic strategy for winning when voters can pick a solid Republican.

Perriello is legislating like he campaigned. He has an independent streak to him but is far more like a traditional Democrat than Nye. Some may call it confidence and others arrogance. The guy thinks that he doesn't need to be as conservative as Nye and other Republican lites in order to win in his McCain district. After all, he didn't in 2008.

Going in 2010, this could make Nye the easier target than Perriello. Nye will have base problems. The bloggers won't want to help him. Democratic enthusiasm is already down in Virginia. Nye isn't going to be able to whip it up. His hope is that two years of voting like a Republican will be enough to keep him into office. But a weaker base means he has to win over an even larger pool of conservative and independent voters who are naturally more distrustful of Obama and his Democratic Party.

Perriello could become the more difficult target. He seems like the type of Democrat who could whip up the Democratic base, geographically concentrated in Charlottesville, even if the national trend is against Democratic enthusiasm. Only a candidate from the Charlottesville area will be able to cut into Perriello's margins in the north. With a stronger base the pool of independents and conservatives Perriello has to win over is smaller. And I think the district has more traditional Democrats who voted for Virgil Goode because they had always been voting for Virgil Goode. Anyone but Goode might not be able to win over these traditionally Democratic voters. The Republican Party needs to find a top tier challenger here. Not just anyone will do.

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