As anyone following the Virginia gubernatorial race is aware, Republican Robert F. McDonnell has been making hay by minimizing the social conservatism of his past and reaching out to moderates in the DC suburbs on economic issues. The current betting is that he will beat Democrat Creigh Deeds handily, leading to this sentiment, quoted in today’s Wapo story by Rosalind Halderman and Anita Kumar:
“I think a win in Virginia will be a shot heard around the world and
will show a strong comeback in the making,” said Republican strategist
Ron Bonjean, who added that a McDonnell victory would create a
“template for Republicans on a national level.”
So what’s the template? Presumably it’s for GOP candidates in swing states and districts to abandon the old Rovian “mobilize the base and win by a whisker” strategy in favor of the older Reaganite “lock up the base early and move to the center” approach. The challenge, of course, is that with so large a portion of the Republican base constituted by social conservatives, a moderate campaign like McDonnell’s runs the risk of failing–through all that moderation–to get your folks fired up and to the polls.
What the template requires, then, is a candidate whom social conservatives recognize as one of their own–with sufficient quiet assurance through the networks that he will carry as much water for them as he possibly can. There’s no question that McDonnell fits that bill–and if any state has the networks, it’s Virginia. Looking to 2010, the successful Republicans won’t be bona fide social moderates like Dede Scozzafava, the GOP nominee in a special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district whose Conservative Party opponent is being backed by GOP ideologues and back-benchers. It’ll be the McDonnells.