The Style Primary

The problem with taking the time to gather your thoughts, at least in the blog world, is that there’s probably someone out there who’s quicker on the draw than you….you wanted to get all the facts straight, double check everything, but somebody else already has (or isn’t too bothered by those pesky “facts”). And so it was with this post, where I had the basic idea that Cuccinelli v. Bolling isn’t going to come down so much to the issues but as a pure contest of political style.

First, DJ over at the Right Wing Liberal:

Very little distances either man on issues: In the State Senate, both Cuccinelli and Bolling established low-tax, low-spending, and culturally conservative records. They even made the same mistake (backing the Howell version of HB3202), and walked it back during the critical but now nrealy-forgotten 2008 special session. We may see some dramatic magnification of miniscule differences, but I doubt it will be enough for any neutral (of which I am one) to go one way or the other.

……

As candidates, Bolling and Cuccinelli have very different skill sets. This is the political version of apples and oranges. Bolling is steady, predictable, and affable; all excellent qualities in a candidate running on a good record in an electorate generally favorable to him. Cuccinelli, by contrast, is dynamic, originial, kinetic, and on occasion hyperactive. Many more voters would be comfortable with Bolling than Cuccinelli (good for voter breadth). Cuccinelli forces voters to think, takes risks that could be game changers, and never backs down from a challenge, thus appealing to voters who are more focused and engaged (good for voter depth). To make things even more complex, each man’s traits could be strengths or weaknesses depending upon the political climate – and that means the political climate could be the one thing that determines which one would be the better candidate.

Chris over at Mason Conservative has much the same thinking, though he framed it more in regional terms:

Its a battle between Richmond and Northern Virginia.

 

The agendas of business interests, local governments, and even the citizens themselves of Richmond and Northern Virginia are different.  Richmond is old Virginia.  Its business interests are defined by old bankers, law firms, and tobacco companies that have been bankrolling Virginia elections since forever.  Northern Virginia is defined by developers, contractors, dot.coms, environmentalists, public servants that come from PTAs and HOAs and where education and transportation and the biggest issues.  And when you look and the needs of both regions of the state, then look at the relative small size of the state budget (compared to other states), there isn’t enough money for both of them.

………

You want to know why Bill Bolling is so outraged at Ken Cuccinelli?  Because Ken represents the biggest threat to the power of Richmond in this state it’s ever seen.  He’s charismatic, made a national name for himself, never was able to be controlled in the senate, and he cannot be pushed aside as a “moderate” someone downstate conservatives would be embarrassed to support.  Bolling has done things the Richmond way.  He’s paid his dues, worked hard, been loyal, said and done the right things, and waited his turn.  Just like all of them.  There isn’t much of a difference in politics between the two, which is a much bigger problem for Bolling.  Ken can’t be brushed aside like Davis was by the claim he’s some wishy-washy Fairfax moderate RINO.  That card is gone, and Bob Marshall proved in 2008 how strong a conservative with a NOVA base can be in a primary, and Ken only confirmed that in 2009 with his drubbing that he laid on two other candidates.

Ken is like Northern Virginia because he doesn’t play by the old rules, he doesn’t care about who’s turn it is, he doesn’t care about the old way of doing things.

And so goes my thinking. What we have here isn’t so much a fight over issues as a fight over style. Bolling comes from the political school of thought that you need to bide your time. Principles are important…you wouldn’t be bothering with this if you didn’t have something pulling you in, right? But what good are you going to be if every time someone challenges you your first move is straight for the jugular? Work the vineyards, move up….you’ll get your chance to make a difference. Cuccinelli doesn’t quite see things that way…..its all about principles, values. You’re either right or you’re wrong. You’re not doing it right if you don’t fight in the streets, leave no stone unturned, refuse to confront people. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Which I think is what makes all of this so disconcerting for so many activists. Let’s face it—RPV is predominantly conservative. Yes, there’s a few, just a few old hat moderates left, but their numbers are dwindling every year. And yes, there’s always someone right behind you saying that you’re not conservative enough……remember, it wasn’t even twenty years ago that George Allen and Ollie North’s people were looked upon with some distaste. It wasn’t so long ago that Allen was the outsider…..and Bolling was one of his guys. But things change. So who do you go with? The guy who takes no quarter on your issues and is willing to lose, so long as he’s right—or the guy who was there all along, used to even be more like his now opponent, but waited, worked for this moment?

A sidenote: A lot of people seem to be framing this in the context of “Republicans always go with the guy whose turn it is.” First off, this is largely based off of experience in presidential primaries—Bush ‘88, Dole ‘96, McCain ‘08. This is comparing apples and oranges. I’m not convinced that “its his turn” holds as much sway as it did prior to the Tea Party rise and their domination in primaries in 2010, nor that it ever really existed below the presidential level—ask former Delegate Clint Miller if he thought it was Allen’s turn in 1993. Secondly, these races are very different—yes, presidential primaries are a long slog, but there you’re dealing with contacting millions of voters in different states, each with its own nuanced system for choosing delegates to the national convention. Here, you’re dealing with getting voters in one state out on just one day (remember, the State Central Committee has already settled on a primary). Yeah, sure, you need to target your areas of the state, but they’re not weighted—whoever gets the most voters wins. Finally, the reason we’ve ended up with “the anointed one” in many past GOP Presidential primaries is not so much that they were always the front runner—Buchanan was whipping Dole hard before South Carolina, and Bush had lost more contests than he won up to South Carolina in 1988. McCain was in a similar situation, and even the Gipper lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush in 1980. The reason they ended up winning was because either they were prepared for the long slog or the new favorites of the activists withered under the hot lights of the media. Say what you will about Cuccinelli upending the order—fair or not, he’s been through this before, as has Bolling, but to a degree he’s had it tougher in no small part to his narrow re-election to the State Senate in 2007. Cuccinelli, love it or hate it, is ready for prime time.

To underscore just what’s going on here in terms of this being more a contest of style than issues, I decided to do a little more research—I decided to actually LOOK at both men’s records. Well, scratch that—I decided to look up where the two men have stood in the eyes of various groups, left and right, that dare to rate members of the General Assembly.

Two important caveats here. One, let’s keep in perspective that Ken and Bill only served concurrently for three sessions—2003 to 2005. If you follow the GA, you know that no one session is quite like the other. Sure there are perennial bills, but those are not the ones that define each session—those bills come up year after year because they always fail. The issues that define each session change. Secondly, just as both men are going to go over each other’s records with a fine toothed comb, so did these interest groups. The bills that each group takes into consideration are rarely, if ever, a complete record of every bill that touched upon that group’s issues, and those issues change from year to year—which is why one year you may get a 100% rating but the next 40%. But until I or some other intrepid blogger gets the time to examine every bill both men voted on (which will likely be around the time one of them or their Democratic opponent is sworn in), this will do.

This information is gleaned, largely from both men’s pages at ProjectVoteSmart (Ken here, Bill here). If either camp wants to correct the record here, I welcome it. So with no further ado:

Cuccinelli and Bolling: Interest Group Ratings

Key:

NS—Not Serving in the body that was rated

NR—Not rated (group did not issue ratings)

All scores are out of 100% unless otherwise noted

Abortion

Virginia Society for Human Life (Pro-Life)

1999

2000

2001

2002

2004-05

2004-2007

Cuccinelli

NS

NS

NS

NS

100

100

Bolling

100

NR

100

100

100

NS

NARAL/Pro-Choice Virginia (Pro-Choice)

2002

2004

2005

2008

2009

Cuccinelli

NS

0

0

0

0

Bolling

0

0

0

NS

NS

Planned Parenthood (Pro-Choice)

2004-05

2009

Cuccinelli

0

0

Bolling

0

NS

Business
Virginia National Federation of Independent Businesses

1996-7

1998-99

2000-01

2006-07

Cuccinelli

NS

NS

NS

100

Bolling

100

83

100

NS

Virginia Chamber of Commerce

1998

1999

2000-01

2002-03

2005

Cuccinelli

NS

NS

NS

NS

82

Bolling

88

89

79

89

100

Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education
97 99 2000 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09
Cuccinelli NS NS NS NS NS 62 68 82 NR 61 94 89
Bolling 84 85 100 79 86 71 67 100 NS NS NS NS
LGBT Issues
Equality Virginia

2003

2004

2005

2007

Cuccinelli

0

0

0

67

Bolling

100

0

0

NS

Social Conservatism
The Family Foundation

1999

2001

2002-03

2004-05

2006-07

2008-09

Cuccinelli

NS

NS

100

100

92

91

Bolling

88

93

100

100

NS

NS

*Note: The Christian Coalition did ratings prior to Ken’s service. Bill received a 95% in 1997 and 100% in 1999.

Education

Virginia Education Association

1998

2002

2004

2005

2006

2006-07

2008

Cuccinelli

NS

NS

33/0*

67

80

78

75

Bolling

30

43

33/0*

50

NS

NS

NS

*Note: I found two different scores for 2004; both are included here
The Environment
Virginia League of Conservation Voters
99 2000 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09
Cuccinelli NS NS NS NS 17 11 0 43 50 57 10
Bolling 33 60 100 80 20 50 0 NS NS NS NS
Labor
Virginia AFL-CIO
99 2001 2002 2003 2004* 2005* 2006 2007 2008 2009
Cuccinelli NS NS NS 9 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bolling 0 0 50 0 6 11 NS NS NS NS
Gun Rights
National Rifle Association
1999 2003 2005* 2007 2009*
Cuccinelli NS A NR A A+
Bolling A A A NR A+
*Note: Bolling’s 2005 score is for his first LG run. Both men’s 2009 scores are for their respective statewide runs that year. The NRA assigns alphabetical grades that are based both on legislative work and survey responses
Virginia Citizen’s Defense League
I’m having trouble working out percentages here, since VCDL assigns one grade but VCDL-PAC is the one that hands out endorsements. Suffice it to say that both men, as far as I know, have been endorsed by VCDL in all of their runs throughout VCDL’s history. However, if I am wrong here, please let me know. Candidate surveys can be found here—figured I’d provide the source on this one because of the very nuanced nature of this exercise (or rather, the fact that too much nuance will earn you scorn from VCDL).
Conclusion
Obviously there’s a lot to chew on here, and again, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If you’re highly interested in all of this, I suggest tracking down the actual scorecards for that year—again, something’s gotta be up for both men to earn over 50% from Equality Virginia once while pulling in zeroes the rest of the time—same with their wildly gyrating League of Conservation Voters Scores. This is the tip of the iceberg, and we have over a year and a half to go, but for right now—its pretty clear that the two men are relatively close when it comes to core issues for the Republican base. (As DJ pointed out, they both even made the same mistake by backing the miserable transportation plan in 2007, abuser fees and all). I have no commentary beyond that—just wanted to throw this out there.
Corrections, additions, and just plain criticism welcome.
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