Lessons From Virginia, Iowa

By Heather Williams, Vice President at Stateside Associates

(Excerpt reprinted with permission from Governors Journal)

Virginia has given us insight into how national issues are going to play in state elections in 2012.

Despite all efforts by Virginia Democrats to make their campaigns for state Senate about state issues, Republicans worked determinedly to tie all Democrats to an unpopular president. This is for good reason.

Quinnipiac has Governor McDonnell’s approval rating at 62% whereas Rasmussen Reports President Obama’s approval rating at 45%. The clearest example of the Republicans’ goals to tie candidates to the president came in the form of a quote from Virginia GOP spokesman Garren Shipley: “Virginians face a choice—do they want Washington, Obama-style leadership, or do they want Virginia, McDonnell-style leadership?” If Democrats wanted to win, their mandate was to fight back against these types of linkages. They knew going into their races that they couldn’t win talking about national issues and so they worked tirelessly against allowing the Republicans to draw clear lines between Democratic candidates and the president.

In the end, Democrats struggled to distance themselves from the president and his national agenda, but those who did were largely successful. Senator Phillip Puckett(D) publicly stated in September he would not be supporting the President in 2012. Despite that statement, Republicans aired an ad linking Senator Puckett to President Obama and his “job killing” national agenda (Puckett won with 53 percent of votes cast). Democrats tried so hard to keep the campaigns about Virginia and Virginia issues that Senator George Barker’s(D) campaign…



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