In one of the two big off-year political contests that will eventually transfix political junkies everywhere, GOP Attorney General Jerry Kilgore has formally launched his candidacy for governorship of the Commonwealth of Virginia, stumping around the state with an unlikely ally in tow: United States Senator John Warner, who has pretty much parted company with the gubernatorial candidate on the major issues facing Virginia in recent years.The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jeff Schapiro referred to the Warner-Kilgore road show as a “Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis act,” a cultural reference that’s funny and apposite to us old folks who remember, however dimly, the 1950s show-biz partnership between the debonair Martin and the clownish Lewis (not then known, even in France, as a genius).”That Warner and Kilgore are coming together is evidence that the Republican Party is still coming apart, divided between the fading moderate bloc embodied by Warner and the dominant right wing that birthed Kilgore,” Schapiro wrote.The GOP unity signs in Virginia are very deceptive. Schapirto put it well:”How does [Kilgore] simultaneously satisfy the anti-taxers who control the GOP and also the Main Street-type Republicans, like Senator Warner, who will support a tax increase as an investment in essential services?”The no-new-tax forces, notably the Grover G. Norquist-led Americans for Tax Reform, are furious that Kilgore has pledged to support for renomination House and Senate Republicans who backed additional taxes for education, human services and public safety.”And moderate Republicans worry that the state’s finances will bleed again if Kilgore has his way on transportation. He wants to divert sales and income tax revenue that finances schools, police and programs for the poor to roads, rather than rely on higher fuel taxes and other fees on motorists.”So far as I know, Virginia Democrats are completely united behind the candidacy of Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine. But Kilgore, aside from the challenge of uniting his own partisans, is having to deal with an independent candidacy from Republican state senator Russell Potts of Winchester.Everything I know about Jerry Kilgore suggests to me that he’s not exactly the kind of deft politician who can herd sheep, much less cats. And indeed, the most common definition of the original Scotch-Irish meaning of the surname I share with him is: “Tender of goats.” That’s a pretty good description of the Attorney General’s leadership position in the Virginia GOP.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Watching an intra-Democratic argument on voting rights strategy intensify in Washington, I offered some advice to both sides at New York:
There has been an underlying disagreement within the mostly Democratic coalition favoring voting rights that was nicely captured in this New York Times report on Friday:
“A quiet divide between President Biden and the leaders of the voting rights movement burst into the open on Thursday, as 150 organizations urged him to use his political mettle to push for two expansive federal voting rights bills that would combat a Republican wave of balloting restrictions … In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression,’ according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.”
Both sides in this argument are partly wrong. Those who expect Joe Biden to force the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act through the Senate via some major revision in the ability to filibuster are probably expecting the impossible. Yes, perhaps if Biden personally and insistently and abrasively lobbied Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema to abandon her very consistent defense of the filibuster, up to and including encouragement of a primary challenge to her when she is up for reelection in 2024, she might decide her current and very insistent independent-maverick “branding” isn’t going to keep working for her. But Joe Manchin? He would be thrilled to get attacked by a Democratic president or Democratic advocacy groups for insisting that he won’t support voting-rights measures unless at least some Republicans support them. His state is so very red that the threat of a primary challenge to the sole remaining successful West Virginia Democrat is a laugher.
Short of a nuclear attack on West Virginia, it’s hard to identify anything Biden might do to Manchin that wouldn’t run a high risk of backfiring. And he does need Manchin on the reconciliation bills Democrats are using to get around the filibuster to enact Biden’s social and economic agenda. It’s just too bad voting-rights bills don’t qualify for reconciliation.
Yes, it is intensely frustrating that Biden cannot bring himself to come out forthrightly for filibuster reform, but it probably doesn’t matter since it is not happening unless the Democratic Senate Conference gets bigger, making senators like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant on the subject. So at some point voting-rights advocates need to focus on that goal.
At the same time, White House claims that Democrats can “out-organize voter suppression” are partially wrong as well. Yes, restrictive provisions like voter-ID requirements, limits on voting by mail, and even voter-roll purges can be countered and perhaps overcome by intensive efforts to educate and energize the voters Republicans are trying to keep from the polls. But you cannot out-organize a partisan gerrymander, or a law that lets election officials or state legislators overturn the outcome of an election after votes are cast.
Voting-rights advocates will eventually have to play the cards dealt to them by the system as it currently exists. That means refraining from too much anger aimed at Democratic pols who have little choice but to concede defeat on some legislation and concentrate on legislation (i.e., those reconciliation bills with many items vital to the people whose voting rights are also under attack) they can enact with no margin for error in the Senate and little in the House. At the same time, Biden and his staff and Democratic “pragmatists” in Congress should never for a moment be cavalier about the legislative obstacles they face in defending democracy itself. They may have to accept a tactical defeat on voting rights in this Congress. But they should never, ever, give up on making it happen later if not sooner.