Sunday, November 06, 2005

Evaluating The Governor's Race Using Sabato's Ten Keys to the Mansion

Writing for the Cooper Center in February 2002 about Governor Warner’s election, Professor Larry Sabato wrote, “Since 1969, the party with the advantage on the 'Ten Keys to the Governor’s Mansion' has invariably captured the governorship.”

I don’t know how Professor Sabato is calling the race this year, but here’s my take on his “Ten Keys” applied to this year’s Governor’s race:

1) Economy: Advantage N
While gas prices are high and folks are concerned about how they’ll heat their homes this winter, taxes in Virginia remain lower than in other states; per capita income is still up and unemployment is still down (except in rural parts of the state where dissatisfaction may help Kilgore).

2) Party Unity: Advantage (D)
This is the first time in years Republican candidates have run from the party “brand” failing to include it in advertisements. Why? The Party has been injured by scandal (the eavesdropping case), and the primary season was bitter.

Democrats are united behind Kaine, albeit with less enthusiasm than he would want.

3) Scandal: Advantage (D)
The eavesdropping case…the resignation of a Congressman…the link between Bolling and a failed insurance company… none of this helps the R’s.

4) Campaign Operations and Technology: Advantage (R)
It will take the D’s in Virginia years to make up for the Party’s failure to enter the technology age sooner.

5) Campaign Money: Advantage (R)
Kilgore has shown, once again, that unless a Democratic candidate is a millionaire, Republicans will out raise Democrats (especially when they get to hide the names of their contributors)

6) Candidate Personality and Appeal: Advantage N
Kilgore seems brittle; Kaine seems elastic. Kaine’s natural charm isn’t translating in the media.

7) Prior Office Experience: Advantage (R)
Kilgore’s experience as Attorney General and Secretary of Public Safety has given him a solid record to run on. Kaine’s tenure in the “weak mayor” job and on City Council, left him fighting the negative perceptions of the City without marginal success.

8) Retrospective judgment of previous governor: Advantage (D)
Governor Warner’s popularity is a huge asset but difficult to leverage. Kilgore can hardly tout Gilmore.

9) Presidential popularity: Advantage (D)
Bush is down, but not out in Virginia, but he won’t help Kilgore with independent voters who are the key to this election.

10) Special issues and dominant circumstances: Advantage (R)
Like it or not (and I don’t), the immigration issue provides Kilgore’s campaign with some momentum going into election day.

Net Advantage: 4(D), 4 (R), 2 (N)

Guess we know why the race is a “dead heat,” with the deciding factor out of the candidates control…it’s what Sabato calls the “prevailing conditions.” This year the voters have a very positive view of the direction in which Virginia is headed and a pretty negative view of Bush and the federal government. Clearly, this factor favors Kaine.

But, there’s one thing that Sabato’s “Keys” don’t address, which is voter intensity about the candidates and about the election itself. Although articles in the MSM today quote insiders as saying that voter interest is picking up, it is still likely that “I don’t give a darn” may be the spoiler candidate this year rather than the independent candidate Potts.

If turnout meets Sabato’s projected 2 million voters (slightly higher than in 2001), I think Kaine will win. If turnout is below 2001’s 46.2%, and especially if turnout among African American voters is less than 15% of the total, I think that Kilgore wins.

We’ll all know Tuesday (or maybe later if the election is as close as many predict). Who knows? If it’s a close as some think it will be, we may not know who won until after all provisional ballots are counted and the final count is certified by the State Board of Elections. And, even then, we might be headed for a recount.

At least we won't have butterfly ballots.

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