Political Playbook

Jan 2, 2014

In 2013 national Democrats took note of Terry McAulife's win in Virginia's gubernatorial race. They're hoping to use that 'Virginia model' to win nationally in the 20-14 midterms, and they're trying to make their case with one Virginia Republican in particular.

Virginia’s recent gubernatorial candidates were remarkable for how unremarkable - or outright distasteful - they were to voters. In-spite of polls showing dissatisfaction with both Republican Ken Cucinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, in an off year election Virginians flooded voting booths...giving McAuliffe the chance to become the commonwealth's seventy second governor.

“He won because he used tools and technology to turnout a rising American electorate at near presidential levels – near presidential turnout levels.," says New York Congressman Steve Israel. During the 2014 election cycle Israel is heading the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – or DCCC, as it’s called here in Washington. Israel says the 2013 race in Virginia - the issues used to win and the impressive get out the vote effort - is giving his party its roadmap to a winning 2014 cycle.

Israel is trying to orchestrate a Democratic sweep in spite of historic trends that show Republicans should maintain control of the House and possibly recapture the Senate. During the government shutdown Democrats saw their approval rating shoot up. Then the government’s lights flipped on and the public turned its anger to the botched rollout of the federal health care website. Republicans then saw their numbers rebound. Those ups and downs don’t really mean much to most of us, but that data is never far from Congressman Israel’s mind.

For Democrats to control the House Israel needs to capture seats like the second district of Virginia, currently held by Republican Scott Rigell. In attempting to cultivate the image of a pragmatic moderate, Rigell has at times broken with conventional G-O-P wisdom – even riding with President Obama on Air Force One. His district is one of the most purple in the nation. Israel says it's all smoke and mirrors.

“Congressman Rigell as a prime example of somebody who owned the entire field, so he could fool all the people all the time. When he wanted to paint himself as a moderate, he could. When he wanted to paint himself as a tea party conservative, he did," says Israel.
The DCCC is backing Suzanne Patrick – who they love noting served as a defense official under President George W. Bush. Israel notes that could appeal to all the military personal and defense contractors in the Virginia Beach area.

“She’s in that race as a true centrist. And now Rigell on every vote has to agonize over who he is, and Suzanne Patrick is going to remind people exactly who he has been."

With Congress polling at historic lows....below ten percent...it's evident voters are tired of politics as usual in Washington. Congressman Rigell is trying to tap into that sentiment.  “No one is happy, I really believe, with both parties,” said Rigell.

While Rigell votes with his party more than ninety percent of the time, he’s also rejected Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge and made the case for increasing revenue – an idea rejected by most Republicans. Rigell also rejected his party’s strategy on defunding so-called Obamacare that led to the government shutdown.  “Look, every single American is harmed by gridlock, which means that we’re going to have to give a little bit on both sides.”

While many conservative groups opposed the recent budget deal, Rigell along with the rest of the delegation supported it. He says it moves Congress back to regular order, which he says military officials in his district need. “The system itself the way it’s designed and being administered is really hurting our country. The gridlock is really hurting our country.”

Kyle Kondik is a campaign analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He says Rigell’s seat will be a key indicator in the 20-14 campaign. The congressman maintained the seat even as the president won his district in the last election. Kondik says he’s dubious of Democrats attempt to use the Virginia model to excite voters. “The big problem for Democrats is that just generally speaking their voters don’t turn out in midterms the way they do in presidentials. We saw that in 2008, 2010 and 2012 – Democrats win two presidential races and sandwiched in between it is this horrible, horrible loss in 2010.”

Democrats need to capture seventeen Republican seats nationwide to regain control of the House, and their hoping to use the Virginia model to turn Congress a little more blue.