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The Commonwealth of Virginia is one of two states to hold off-year elections for governor in 2013. Today, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling suspended his campaign for his party’s nomination, apparently clearing the path for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II. We examine how the race is shaping up, and why some are concerned with how the nomination process is shaping the direction of the Virginia GOP.
- Quentin Kidd Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Government, Christopher Newport University; Co-author of “The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth and the Partisan Transformation of the American South” (Oxford University Press)
- Robert Holsworth Political Analyst, DecideSmart; former Dean of Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Government and Public Affairs
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, from the big screen and Humphrey Bogart to the small screen and "Leave It to Beaver," the unique Hollywood life of actor Lyle Talbot. But first, intrigue in Virginia politics.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfter a long brutish presidential election, Virginia voters would be forgiven if they wanted to tune out from partisan politics, but the Commonwealth is one of only two states holding elections in 2013. And the race for governor is already generating headlines and national attention. Today, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced that he is dropping his bid for his party's nomination, clearing the path for a possible showdown between Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite, and Terry McAuliffe, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs ever, the Commonwealth is seemingly being jerked in very different directions. And joining us to discuss this is Quentin Kidd, professor of political science and chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. Quentin is co-author of the book "The Rational Southerner: Black Mobilization, Republican Growth and the Partisan Transformation of the American South." He joins us by phone from Newport News. Quentin, good to hear from you.
PROF. QUENTIN KIDDIt's good to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone from Richmond is Robert Holsworth. Bob Holsworth is a political analyst with an organization called DecideSmart. He's the former dean of Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Government and Public Affairs. Bob Holsworth, good to talk to you.
MR. ROBERT HOLSWORTHGreat to be with you again, Kojo.
NNAMDIThe question why is Bill Bolling dropping out four years ago, it was to clear the path for Bob McDonnell, and it could be explained as being for the good of the Republican Party. Today, some people see it as a sign that maybe he lacks the fire in the belly to take on someone like Ken Cuccinelli, but there could be a third option. Bob Holsworth, could he be running as an independent?
HOLSWORTHWell, I think what he did today was that he withdrew, Kojo, from the Republican nominating battle largely because he believed that he's simply couldn't beat Ken Cuccinelli in a convention. If it had been a primary, I think Bill Bolling would have stayed in to the end here and taken him on, but he knew that a convention would give Cuccinelli and his base among the activists, you know, a very strong advantage.
HOLSWORTHWhat he's done as well is that he's also sent out a little bit of a trial balloon. I don't know how many days it's going to last. But I spoke with him this morning, and he noted that, at the end of his statement, he was going to say he wants to remain an independent voice in Virginia.
HOLSWORTHAnd he told me that he -- you know, that one should highlight that comment, that -- clearly, what he's probably doing today and tomorrow is looking around to see whether or not, particularly his financial backers and people in the business community, might not be satisfied with either McAuliffe or with Ken Cuccinelli and might be willing to at least entertain the possibility of an independent candidacy. So that's why I think you heard Bill Bolling say today that he's suspending his campaign, not to say necessarily that he's leaving it completely.
NNAMDIAnd, Quentin Kidd, if indeed he is pondering the notion of running as an independent, how viable an option do you think that is?
KIDDWell, I mean, I think it would be a tough climb, especially if Terry McAuliffe makes it through the Democratic primary process without a challenger, say, from Tom Perriello. That would mean both McAuliffe and now Cuccinelli are the unchallenged nominees of their party. They would have a lot of time to raise the money and put the infrastructure together to run pretty solid general election campaigns, so an independent would have a hard time in that process.
KIDDAnd I don't know that there's a lot of, you know, there's not a lot of populous personal connection or appeal that people have to Bill Bolling, which would really make an independent run more formidable if he were a populous, for example, and he's not really a populous. So I think it would be difficult for him to do. In my mind, it's an expression of -- in, you know, Bob talked to him. I didn't.
KIDDBut it's an expression of almost frustration at what he's had to go through because this is the second time where he's vowed out of running for governor. You know, he was -- he vowed out and let Bob McDonnell run, and now, he's vowed out essentially and let Ken Cuccinelli run unopposed. And I can't imagine that he's not frustrated by this happening twice now.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. If you have thoughts about the decision by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling not to seek the Republican nomination for governor of Virginia, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In 2012, Virginia was front and center in the national spotlight as a swing state in a sort of bellwether for the national race for president.
NNAMDIThis time, it may still be an interesting case study on the direction of the Republican Party. One of the big questions was whether the party would moderate its message. So, Bob Holsworth, Ken Cuccinelli is not the first person who comes to mind to be their party's standard bearer if they're talking about moderating the message.
HOLSWORTHWell, you know, Kojo, they're having a debate inside the Republican Party about which way to go. There are a number of people who say, you know, they have to moderate the msg. They have to find better messengers. And at the same time, there's a very strong group inside the Republican Party that looks at the nominations of John McCain and Mitt Romney and say, you know, "We moved in the wrong direction. We went too moderate. We need somebody who's really a principled conservative and knows how to defend and explain our point of view."
HOLSWORTHAnd that's what Ken Cuccinelli is going to give them. So as exactly as you say, he's going to be a test case in 2013 for how the Republicans should move nationally. And for that reason and for also the fact there's only one other state holding a gubernatorial election, Virginia is going to be at the center again of the national political debate next year because people are going to be watching very, very carefully how the Cuccinelli candidacy actually proceeds and whether it can be successful in Virginia.
NNAMDIAnd we talked about this before on this broadcast, but I'd like to step back again, Quentin Kidd, and talk about why Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling may feel that his chances are less than good if he has to face Ken Cuccinelli, attorney general, in a convention situation.
KIDDWell, he had because the people who are going to come to a convention are the party activists. The Republican Party -- you know, Bob is right. There's this discussion, this division within the party -- Republican Party right now, but the power in the party is in the base, the Tea Party base, the sort of right wing social conservative base. They control that convention. They will control the convention. I'm sure that some of Bolling's people had done some preliminary counts of what, you know, what the vote might look like. It obviously wasn't going to look good.
KIDDAnd contrast that with a primary where you would be inviting, you know, anybody to come and vote, it would be a more moderate electorate more likely that would vote than -- in a Republican primary than at a Republican convention, and Bill Bolling would have a better chance to sort of appeal to a larger audience, a more moderate audience in a Republican primary. But, you know, Cuccinelli and his supporters within the Republican Party were thinking about that already, and they got the convention process locked down, and it essentially locked Bill Bolling out of the race.
NNAMDIAnd, Bob Holsworth, both Democrats and Republicans face a basic math problem. The last time that one party, the same party won the White House and the Virginia governor's mansion the next year was 1973, so Democrats need to beat a trend that stretches back to them. Every time a Democrat wins the White House, the Republicans take the Virginia governor's mansion. For the Republicans, the equation is a little different.
NNAMDISince 2001, there have been 10 top-of-the-ticket statewide races in the Commonwealth for either governor, senator, or president, and the Democrats have won, like, seven of them, the only exceptions being John Warner's re-election in 2002, George W. Bush in 2004 and Bob McDonnell in 2009. Care to comment, Bob?
HOLSWORTHWell, I think the presidential curse that you mentioned first is an interesting factoid, but I'm yet to be convinced -- yet to see any analysis that explains to me why it really happened for 40 years that is coherent in any serious way. I do think what has happened is that Virginia has moved to be clearly a purple state and one that at least in presidential years is leaning blue. I think the Democrats have a tougher time with that.
HOLSWORTHI don't think we necessarily lean blue in the non-presidential years, and so my sense of it this is likely to be a very, very competitive race for governor this year no matter what. I think the Democrats' challenge is to find a way to ensure they can mobilize some of these presidential Democrats, people who show up for presidential elections in Virginia but don't show up and last time -- in the gubernatorial election of, let's say, 2009 to get out there and vote.
HOLSWORTHThe Republicans on the other hand do have to begin to figure out how they're going to deal with the demographic challenges that we saw nationally and are certainly seeing in Virginia as well. As Virginia changes as a state, places that Republicans used to win handily, they're only barely getting by. In my area, for example, in Chesterfield County, they used to win that by 25-, 30,000 votes. George Allen carried it again against Tim Kaine by 6,000 votes.
HOLSWORTHUp in Northern Virginia, Republicans were beat fairly decisively in 2008 and Prince William. They got beat in Loudoun. They got beat, you know, creamed in Fairfax. So these are challenges that the Republicans are going to have to figure out because the Democrats I think understand that this election is going to be about mobilizing some of those presidential Democrats, and I expect them to do a better job of it this time than they did in 2009.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd, can you offer a coherent explanation of the musical chairs between the White House race and the government -- governor's office that's been taking place in Virginia since the 1970s that would give Republicans reason to believe that it will happen again this time?
KIDDWell, the only coherent pattern or message -- the only coherent explanation I can make is that Virginia has had a history that goes back 100 years of having a presidential electorate and then a gubernatorial electorate. I mean, you know, back in the '40s and '50s and '30s, you would have Southern Democrats who would vote Republican at the presidential level but Democrats everywhere else. And so there's this history of doing that kind of, you know, splitting voting across elections like that in Virginia.
KIDDSo I mean, perhaps that same kind of pattern is existing in another way, but I don't think there's an empirical, you know, scientifically solid explanation for it. I juts think sometimes there are anomalies in elections that look like patterns but they're really not patterns. And I think, you know, the real challenge for -- I'm presuming that Terry McAuliffe will be the Democratic nominee, and Ken Cuccinelli will be the Republican nominee.
KIDDThe real challenge for these two guys is that they really, you know, Virginians have really strong views about them. There's not a lot of gray areas for either one of these guys amongst the electorate, so I expect it to be a pretty dirty race. I expect, you know, when the electorate has a strong view about both of the candidates, then what ends up happening is both sides try to beat the other one up...
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
KIDDI was going to say probably going to be a very, very nasty race because of that.
NNAMDIWell, Bob Holsworth, let's see if somebody can create some gray area. When Bob McDonnell, governor, was in the House of Delegates, he was often an outspoken social conservative, but during his statewide runs, he really deemphasized issues like abortion, gay marriage, presented himself as a pro-business, solution-oriented type of leader. With his path to the Republican nomination seemingly wide open now, do you think Ken Cuccinelli might take this opportunity to hue to the center or, well, at the very least, refrain from talking about abortion clinic regulations or climate change?
HOLSWORTHWell, I think, you know, it'll be a question about where places his priorities. But at the same time, he has a more extensive recent record on these issues you might say than Bob McDonnell did. And he's looked at the attorney general's job differently. When Bob McDonnell became attorney general, he had been a very conservative legislator, known for his pro-life positions, but also known for his effectiveness in passing a lot of conservative reforms. As attorney general, what Gov. McDonnell also did was to demonstrate that he could run the state's law office in an effective, professional manner.
HOLSWORTHAnd so it was very difficult for the Democrats to point to decisions McDonnell had made as attorney general that were way outside of the mainstream or had been -- had an ideological tone to it. Ken Cuccinelli has looked at this job a little differently. He's come in and used the attorney generalship to really attack federal overreach more prominently than, I think, anybody that I can remember in that job in Virginia. And in doing so, he's gained a national base. He's gained himself a lot of support among the activist Republicans in Virginia.
HOLSWORTHBut at the same time, it's probably generated more opposition to his activities as attorney general, particularly on the Democratic side, than is normally the case with somebody who's holding that job. So my sense is that Cuccinelli may emphasize priorities that are a little different. But at the end of the day, he's going to run as a principled conservative and is not going to run away or de-emphasize any position that he is actually taken over the years.
NNAMDISpeaking of on the Democratic side, Quentin Kidd, as you mentioned, it seems like Terry McAuliffe is now the favorite to be the Democratic candidate in 2009. But not all Democrats are happy with the idea of him as a standard bearer. There has been talk that former Congressman Tom Perriello is being pressured or enticed to enter the race.
NNAMDII'm looking at a report in The Huffington Post, in which the headline says, "Tom Perriello Reportedly Open to Virginia Governor Bid in 2013," and it claims that sources close to Perriello confirmed to The Huffington Post that he is considering a gubernatorial bid. What do you think, Quentin Kidd? Will he or won't he?
KIDDThere is -- well, I don't know whether he will or won't. Yeah, I would say the odds are that he won't. But I don't know, you know, what's going to go on. I know that there is a movement of frustration, a dissatisfaction in the Democratic Party, the progressive side of the Democratic Party about Terry McAuliffe. They've -- there's been talk of, you know, trying to draft Jody Wagner. There's talk of trying to draft Tom Perriello. Some of the, you know, more liberal bloggers are really pushing Tom Perriello.
KIDDIt reflects sort of a discomfort or an unsatisfaction or even lack of confidence in Terry McAuliffe's ability to actually win. I don't know that that fissure or that division is as pronounced in the Democratic Party as the division in the Republican Party is. But if it's there, it's there and it's something that McAuliffe has to deal with or he's going to have trouble winning. I mean, he's really got to deal with that, the progressive side of the party.
KIDDThe really odd part of that is McAuliffe is seen as weak because he is seen as sort of a national liberal. And, you know, four years ago when he ran, that was kind of his weakness. And now, it sounds like the progressives in Virginia are unhappy with him because maybe he's not progressive enough or he's going to bring some baggage that would hurt him. So I think there's a lot still to be settled on the Democratic side as well.
NNAMDIThat's all the time we have. Quentin Kidd is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University. Bob Holsworth is a political analyst with an organization called DecideSmart. He is the former dean of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Government and Public Affairs. Quentin, Bob, thank you both for joining us.
HOLSWORTHTake care. Good to be with you again, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIWhen we come back, from the big screen and Humphrey Bogart to the small screen and "Leave It to Beaver," the unique Hollywood life of actor Lyle Talbot and what it tells us about entertainment in the 20th century. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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