Dave Foster: The Right Man, the Right Time, the Right Choice for AG
A Look at the AG Race (Part 5)
While we can read the tea leaves and find positive things to say about the direction the Republican Party in Virginia is heading, any realistic look is pretty grim. We lost the White House, both Senate seats, three Congressional seats, control of the State Senate, lost ground in the House of Delegates, we’re hemmoraging support in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads at the same time, and half of the Democratic bench possesses at least some ability to communicate with and pick up votes in rural Virginia. The only thing exciting us as a party is the promise for the future on the back of stellar candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor, who built their organization independent of the state or national party.
I believe that promise can not only be matched, but improved upon, by nominating Dave Foster for Attorney General. John Brownlee is a good man, a good politician, and has a great resume. Ken Cuccinelli is a conservative icon, and has my utmost respect and admiration. I would fully and gladly support either candidate for AG if they won the nomination. Most people know me as a Cuccinelli supporter, and I still am a fan of his. This decision wasn’t made because of something he did. Instead, it is about who is the right man at the right time to bring our party out of the self-dug hole we’re in. That man is Dave Foster.
The Right Appeal
My first post in this series wrote about electability arguments. I still hold that all electability arguments are inane, because there will be completely different factors at work in a statewide race in 2009. Yet, previous electoral history is still important. It’s important for Cuccinelli, who proved he can win in Fairfax despite a terrible year in 2007, and it’s important for Foster, who was twice elected County-wide in Arlington as a Republican. The second time, Foster won with 62% of the vote; in 2008, John McCain won only 27%.
While Foster’s experience (or Cuccinelli’s for that matter) may help the Republican ticket in Fairfax and Arlington County, moving beyond pure geography, Dave Foster brings an appeal to the ticket that I believe is unmatched in this race. Foster won in Arlington by bringing together coalitions of voters who were more concerned about pragmatic solutions than party ID.
The appeal that Foster brings is that of a charismatic, caring, and competent public servant. At every public appearance I’ve seen and every report of the debates I’ve read, the one thing that is repeated time and time again is that Foster knows how to speak and communicate. This is often an underlooked skill, but one only needs to look at the current occupant of the White House to appreciate it’s utility. Dave Foster is also the only candidate who has made job creation a key component of his platform, a message that speaks to all in the middle of a recession.
In short, Foster has cultivated an image of competency, and this is an image that the Republican Party desperately needs to latch onto. In Northern Virginia, we’ve seen the fruits of that in two successive elections. First, Pat Herrity barely lost a race for County Chairman against an opponent who barely said anything about any issue. I believe Herrity came so close in a County that gave Obama 60% of the vote because he was upfront and passionate about the issues, and the issues he spoke had pragmatic solutions that people could relate to. So, too, did John Cook when he defeated Ilryong Moon for Braddock Supervisor, in a campaign where John Cook demonstrated he knew and understood how to be an effective Supervisor, and Moon did not. Both candidates did well, among other reasons, because voters knew they would be getting effective representation.
The Right Emphasis
I believe we’re at a crossroads as a party, and if we’re to get back on the path of winning, we need to embrace a new message. Bob McDonnell is forging a pragmatic path to the Governorship that is getting attention. Some people call this being “moderate”, or wishy-washy. The truth is, throughout McDonnell’s successful career, people have always known who he is and what he stands for. McDonnell has been consistent, he’s just choosing a different emphasis, one that has broad appeal and a resonating message. It’s not a matter of diluting our conservative principles, it’s a matter of communicating to voters. Dave Foster understands this.
Foster isn’t a smashmouth conservative, but that doesn’t make him any less principled. He represents a softer side of conservativism that seeks to bring people together on issues they care about and unite them, rather than a brand of conservativism that is often divisive and distracting. If we’re to move forward as a party in a winning direction, we need leaders like Dave Foster at the forefront promoting their unique vision for Virginia.
The Right Issues
This is one of the reasons I’ve been troubled by some of the recent back-and-forths between the AG debates. The one that comes to mind the strongest is the debate over the triggerman rule. Here, we have Ken Cuccinelli taking a principled stand against an expansion of the death penalty (he supports specific provisions, not a broad general rule), and John Brownlee continually hammering him on the issue. This comes a few months after John Brownlee takes exception to a comment, and affirms that he is just as conservative as Cuccinelli on opposing abortion.
It’s not that Dave Foster supports abortion (he’s pro-life) or is against the death penalty (he supports the triggerman rule), it’s a matter of emphasis. Ken Cuccinelli, by the nature of who he is, emphasizes the divisive nature of his politics, usually because that’s what people engage him on. John Brownlee, in an effort to dig into Cuccinelli’s base, is choosing the same exact route of social wedge issues like abortion and the death penalty. Didn’t we learn our lesson from Jerry Kilgore who spent month after month hammering Tim Kaine on the death penalty?
The point here isn’t really to debate the wisdom of the triggerman rule. … The point is simply that the debate is far removed from 99 percent of what the next attorney general will spend his time on.
That was the problem when Jerry Kilgore tried the tactic against Kaine: voters, even those who have strong opinions about the death penalty, are expecting so much more from their Governor. The same problem will occur in 2009, when voters will be expecting so much more from their Attorney General than a specific provision of the death penalty. There is a marked difference between Cuccinelli and Brownlee debating the triggerman rule, and Dave Foster talking about breaking down regulatory hurdles to allow small businesses to thrive in Virginia and create jobs. One is a message that appeals to all parts of the population; the other is red meat for the Republican base. We’re going to need more than just Jim Gilmore’s 34% to turn out if we want to win.
The Right Background
The most important qualification for Attorney General is the ability to fulfill the duties of the office. More than any other description, the one that gets tossed around is that the AG “runs the largest law office in the state”. In addition to having extensive knowledge of the law, the Attorney General must be a good manager. As a long-time parter at Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., Foster has both the knowledge and the experience running a large and renowned law firm. It’s not as flashy as being a prosecutor, but it’s the experience he’ll need to be a successful Attorney General.
The Wrong Reasons
Aside from support for one of the two other candidates, the biggest reason (and the easiest to dismiss) I’ve heard against Foster is that people argue he has the lowest name ID and has raised the least money of the three. That may be true for the nomination contest, but I would guarantee you that Cuccinelli, Brownlee, and Foster all have roughly the same name ID among statewide general election voters: that is to say, next to none. Truth be told, neither does Steve Shannon, or any of the LG candidates. Most people who will vote simply aren’t paying attention right now. Whether Dave Foster, John Brownlee, or Ken Cuccinelli wins the nomination, they’ll all start out with a low name ID.
However, whoever wins the nomination is sure to be able to raise money. Cuccinelli is a proven fundraiser; John Brownlee has done quite well for himself, too. For a candidacy many dismiss as an afterthought, running third in a three-way race, I would contend that Foster has done an admirable job with the circumstances he’s under. However, whowever wins will sure to have money flowing in. The ability to raise money as a nominee will be about the same for all three candidates. These arguments don’t hold water.
The second-most common argument I’ve heard is that Foster simply can’t win the nomination. This one is particularly frustrating, because if everyone that says they would support Foster but aren’t because he can’t win simply would support Foster, this race would likely be an even three-way contest.
However, while he has an uphill struggle to win, Foster is by no means out of the contest. His presence and his strength, along with Brownlee directly challenging Cucinelli, has virtually guaranteed that no one will crack 50% on the first ballot. The question is how much support does Foster get, whether Cuccinelli or Brownlee is closer to 50%, and how much under 50% Cuccinelli is. If Cuccinelli bombs on the first ballot, there would be a a free-for-all for delegates on the successive ballots.
More to the point, though, Foster continues to build support, both from unaffiliated voters and from those previously supporting one of the other two. I’ve heard from numerous people that Foster is their #2 choice. This is in part due to the bitter contest between Brownlee and Cuccinelli, but also due to Foster being an appealing and viable choice. If Foster is able to build that kind of support in a few short months, getting their full-fledged support is possible. All it takes is a few momentum shifts as the Foster campaign continues presenting their message as more and more people tune in.
The Right Choice
There remain two full months of campaigning yet, which is an eternity in politics. While its doubtful that Cuccinelli or Brownlee will self-destruct, there’s plenty of time for Foster to continue to build strength and support, and for Brownlee and Cuccinelli to pummel each other into irrelevency (see Bob Corker’s win in the 2006 Tennessee Senate Primary). As it gets closer to the Convention, voters will take a closer look at their alternatives. I think Foster’s strength thus far has guaranteed his place as a viable option that people will look at. That’s at least a start, and it may be all he needs.
As a Cuccinelli fan, I will continue to defend him against remarks I think wrongly attack him, and as I said before, I would be happy to support any of the three candidates for AG in the fall. As each of the men running have said at various times, we have a great field, which I think is one of the reasons why turnout for the 2009 Convention is projected to be so much higher than the 2008 Convention.
At that convention, I will be supporting Dave Foster and I encourage you to do the same, even if you’ve already committed to another candidate. Dave Foster is the best choice to help elect Bill Bolling Lt. Governor and Bob McDonnell Governor, and to move our party forward in the right direction.
(This post was in the works weeks before Tom Davis endorsed Dave Foster; my own decision was strengthened by Davis’s endorsement, but was not caused by it.)
A Look at the AG Race Series:
Part 1 covered the inanity of electability arguments.
Part 2 covered why conventions are terrible and why each candidate would benefit from a primary.
Part 3 provided immediate coverage of the Roanoke Debate.
Part 4 discussed the fuzzy math in delegate claims by the candidates.
Part 5 presented my endorsement of Dave Foster for Attorney General.