For any candidate seeking the Presidential nomination, ignoring Virginia is not something to be done lightly. Rick Perry’s visit to Richmond may have been a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Virginia’s efforts in 2011, but it also gave Perry face time with Republican grassroots operatives who will be vital to any campaign operation within the Commonwealth.
Virginia’s an odd political duck when it comes to campaign cycles. As one of four states in the nation with odd year elections, every year there is something to turn out for in November. With the entire Democratic controlled State Senate and Republican controlled House of Delegates up for election, both parties are vying for relevance to retain or regain control in a political climate very much dominated by national politics.
When Texas Governor Rick Perry took the stage Wednesday to address the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Grassroots Luncheon he was speaking to a very friendly audience. Over a thousand people filled the room at the Richmond Convention Center, paying anywhere from $50 to $10,000 to hear Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell welcome his “good friend” and predecessor as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association.
Despite the large media contingent (54 media outlets), this was not a typical campaign stop for Gov. Perry’s run for the Republican Presidential nomination. Perry lent his name to RPV to fundraise for this year’s 109 candidates for State Senate and House of Delegates–to date the only Presidential contender to do so. In a speech to the luncheon, Perry strongly contrasted himself against President Barack Obama, but never once mentioned his opponents for the Republican nomination.
Virginia was an important state in Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. A lock for Republicans for a generation, Virginia swinging to the Democrats changed the tone not just of Virginia politics but of Virginia’s place on the national stage. Bob McDonnell’s victory in 2009, along with that of Bill Bolling for Lieutenant Governor, Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General, and Chris Christie’s New Jersey Gubernatorial win, was seen as the start of a trend that carried Republicans to regaining a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010–just four years after losing it and two years after Obama’s historic victory. Virginia’s bellwether status is only heightened in 2012 with its primary now falling on March 6th, joining eight other states on Super Tuesday.
For any candidate seeking the Presidential nomination, ignoring Virginia is not something to be done lightly. Rick Perry’s visit to Richmond may have been a fundraiser for RPV efforts in 2011, but it also gave Perry face time with Republican grassroots operatives who will be vital to any campaign operation within the Commonwealth.
His speech showed an empathetic approach that was hard for anyone in the room to not agree with, especially considering it was a friendly crowd. He spoke about Obama directly, the Democratic Party broadly, and never mentioned his Republican opponents until prodded to do so by the media after the event. This approach avoided burning any bridges out of the gate among those in the audience who may be leaning toward another candidate while focusing on the broader issues on which all of the Republican nominees agree. It was a speech that touted his successes as Governor in creating jobs (Texas is currently ranked #2 in best states for doing business by CNBC, having been knocked out of the top spot by Virginia), he targeted health care reform, called for fiscal restraint and reasonable regulatory structure. When he said he would “go to the Oval Office every morning and try to make DC as inconsequential in your lives as possible,” he got rousing ovation.
He hit the right points to appeal to a crowd that was there to hear him out. He aimed at the issues that mattered across the board, hammered on the shared concerns of Republicans, and generally left everyone feeling good about Rick Perry and Republicans’ chances in 2012.
He started the long process of swinging the state in his favor.
The lending of political star-power for the direct gain of others is an easy expenditure of capital. Yet far too often smaller races are ignored for any number of reasons: logistics, lack of time, concern over money, or the risk of backing the losing candidate. Rick Perry is finding out that it’s not only a good way to help smaller campaigns short term, but it’s a quick way to build his own base for the long term.
In Rick Perry’s case, another boost is sharing the stage with the very popular Governor Bob McDonnell (recent poll gave McDonnell a job approval rating of 61%, second statewide only to Senator Mark Warner at 64%). McDonnell’s win in 2009 and record over his first couple of years as Governor have propelled him into the national spotlight and onto the Vice President short list. And while McDonnell did not endorse Perry (he has said he will wait until after this November’s elections to make a decision), introducing his “good friend” to a crowd of people who approve of him goes a long way to upping Perry’s credentials in Virginia.
Perry is covering his bases. Despite being a late entry to the race, he has quickly become the front runner in polls nationally and in Virginia (a Quinnipiac poll out today put Perry up 10 points on Mitt Romney). But to ensure that lead holds and isn’t a short term enthusiasm bump, he needs to appeal to grassroots activists across the US. By barnstorming and lending his name to the long term fights, while sticking to a message that focuses on the opposition outside the party, Perry’s establishing himself as a national contender that the rank and file can agree with. And if he can help engineer a Republican sweep this November in Virginia–giving Republicans control of the full General Assembly under a Republican Governor for only the second time since Reconstruction–he’d be setting quite the stage for himself when the focus turns to 2012.
Photo by: Lynn Mitchell