Moderate Democrat defeats traditional liberal in VA primary

Former Reagan Navy Secretary (and former Republican) James Webb beat “traditional liberal” candidate Harris Miller in the Virginia U.S. Senate primary yesterday.


The primary was referred to as “brutal” by CNN. This result begs a few questions.

  1. Does this indicate that moderates are more palatable to democratic voters than traditional liberals or is this an isolated incident?

  2. If it is an isolated incident, what are the mitigating factors?

  3. Turnout was low. Is that an indication of democratic voter disinterest and would the result have been different with a higher turnout?

To answer my own questions:

  1. Yes. I have always believed that “loud and proud” liberals do not have the numbers to be successful in a general election nationally or in areas that are purple or red. Appealing to the moderates is the key to winning elections.

  2. I don’t believe that this is an isolated event. I think the results will be similar in other areas of the country in November. “Culture of corruption” and other national buzzwords don’t seem to be sticking in elections so far. Those hoping for a 1994-like change in power are going to be disappointed.

  3. I believe turnout was high enough to have statistical accuracy.

Virginia isn’t exacly a hotbed of lefties, but it probably serves as good a proxy as any for the US as a whole. It’s a Southern state that has a sizeable “non-Southern” population, especially in the suburbs of DC. I couldn’t see a guy like Feingold being successful in VA, nor would I see him being successful in the US (as a whole). There does seem to be a real battle going on between the so-called left wing and so-called moderates of the Democratic party. I hope this doesn’t splinter the party and render it ineffective in competing with the Republicans. We’ll see come November, or if not then, we’ll see for sure in '08.

Webb has some unique attributes that might have contributed to his appeal. The military knowledge, for example. He impressed me as an author, and his willingness to break with the Republicans over the war raised my opinion. Here’s hoping he is a harbinger of change.

Also, keep in mind that neither of those guys could beat Allen, so it’s kind of a moot point.

I think the moderates on both sides of the isle need to step up and campaign against the extremists in their own party. I’m glad to see this victory and hope to see more.

I think people are hungry for leaders who will work toward real honest solutions rather than spew the loyal party BS while sacrificing their integrity.

Why not?

While I agree with the sentiment you’ve expressed, I don’t thing you can equate “extremists” with party hacks. I’d consider Feingold to be pretty far to the left in the Democrat party, but I wouldn’t call him a hack. Same with someone like Kucinich. Lindsey Graham on the other side of the aisle is pretty darn conservative, even for a Republican, but he’s not a hack either.

I’m perplexed by Harris Miller’s being described as a ‘traditional liberal.’ I’ve not been following this race that closely (maybe, after 8 years to the east of the Potomac, I’m starting to let go of being a Virginian), but he was a lobbyist: he was president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), which was instrumental in the December 2003 formation of the Election Technology Council (ETC), which is an alliance of voting-machine manufacturers, including liberal bete noire Diebold.

There’s a big gap between ‘paid industry shill’ and ‘traditional liberal.’ And FWIW, if Miller had any support in the supposedly rabidly-left ‘fever swamp’ of the lefty blogsphere, I sure missed it. To the extent that either primary candidate had support among Kossacks and the like, it was Webb. (But ‘to the extent’ are the key words there. It wasn’t like there was a major blogsphere bandwagon for Webb either, that I could see.)

It’s true that Allen is in a fairly secure position, so why not take a shot with someone more conservative, if anything to give him a scare, maybe, but perhaps also to show that Democrats can work with and run with conservatives? That can get some moderates and even some conservatives to give the Dems another look. Republicans (mostly this administration) don’t play well with others; they don’t have much goodwill with moderates currently and I think that difference could help the Dems make some inroads.

When this sort of thing is said, I always wonder what it means.

On the Dem side, who are these extremists, what sort of influence do they have, what are some examples of their extremism?

On the GOP side, when you’re talking about extremists, don’t you mean the bulk of the party, including its leadership? I give you Tom DeLay:

And while Tom DeLay isn’t in the leadership now, it wasn’t his politics that were the problem.

So let’s be shut of this “both sides have their extremists” meme, OK? Both sides do, but in the Democratic Party, they’re peripheral players like Kucinich; in the GOP, they own the party in fee simple.

I find the OP rather chuckleworthy, as it suggests that Evil One doesn’t know that Webb is one of the darlings of the “crazy left-wing blogosphere”, such as the gang over at Daily Kos.

You make an excellent point. Let me rephrase.

IMHO what is required is an appreciation, even reverence, for the process that was put in place. I don’t the far left or far right is correct. I think it is in the balancing and the discussion and the compromise that we find solutions and move forward. Moderates who are able to maintain some level of integrity about what they really think vs. the party line seem to be better at understanding this concept than either extreme. Painting the liberals or the conservatives as the enemy is a dishonest act and a waste of energy.

I can hold some respect for anyone who has the courage of their convictions but I have a hard time identifying with those on either extreme.

Please see my above response.

Yes the GOP has been much more successful in getting it’s members to tow the party line set by this administration. Much to their shame.

The Dems have seemed fairly ineffectual at finding and supporting leaders that really speak to the moderate and independent voters of this country. It seems instead they rely on strategy that points out the failings of the pubbies {that does keep them fairly busy} I was very disappointed when the Dems appeared to sabotage Paul Hackett’s campaign in Ohio.

I am an independent who tries to look at the issues separately and I’d like to hear someone who is able to talk straight with a minimum of political BS so I might get the feeling my choices aren’t trading one very corrupt party for one less corrupt party , neither of which actually has the interests of the American public as their first priority.

Do I think the Dems are the lessor of two evils. Certainly.

Have you ever considered the possibility that the extremists of one side or the other might be right?

I voted for Webb.

I voted because my informal poll of the neighborhood indicated that Miller had no chance, but Webb had “next to no chance” of winning against Allen.

At this point, you take what you can get.


Anyone intersted in this issue might want to check out Foxes in the Henhouse : How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland and What the Democrats Must Do to Run 'em Out, which was co-authored by Webb’s campaign manager, Dave “Mudcat” Saunders. He’s been making the rounds of the politcal talk shows and was recently on Tim Russert’s Saturday program. Frankly, I find the other author, Steve Jarding, to be the far more articulate of the two (not a reference to Mudcat’s very heavy southern drawl, but to Jarding’s more clear presentation of actual ideas).

I repeat, John, why do you think Allen is unbeatable?

Sorry I missed that earlier.

People who follow this stuff a lot more closely than I have been saying that during the whole campaign and are saying today in the analysis. Plus, Allen has something like $6M in the bank for his campaign already. Webb has $0. Allen is an incredibly engaging politician. The can campaign like nobody’s business (he’s so unflapable it’s scary). He supports Bush on Iraq, but opposes him on hot-button issues like immigration,so he can’t be played as Bush toady. He’s also a favorite of party insiders who want him to run for president, so he’ll be getting lots of help.

Yeah, but the point isn’t to beat Allen…it’s to be competative enough to make him spend his time and money in Virginia now instead of nationally.

Kinda depends on your point of view, ya know?

Here in Virginia beating Allen takes on a shine of it’s own.