Combat. Plain and simple, Ed Gillespie has to be willing to take on Mark Warner aggressively. Revelations that Mark Warner offered a federal judgeship to Phil Puckett’s daughter in exchange for Puckett keeping the Virginia Senate in Democrat hands provides just the opening Gillespie needs to hammer on Warner as being exactly what Virginians don’t need any longer: backslapping, good ole’ boy “Virginia Way” pols who shamelessly game the system for personal and partisan advantage. Given the chance, Virginians will reject the southern version of Obama-style Chicago politics.[read_more]
Yes, Warner will harp on Ed’s role as a lobbyist for Enron. But while Ed advocated for free markets for electricity (which, unsurprisingly, have successfully led to cheaper and more reliable energy for all of us) and had nothing to do with the criminal activities of some of his client’s senior officers, Warner used information he gained as an Democratic party insider to make a fortune off of federal licenses of the public airwaves. As he put it himself, “The government has basically given away tens of billions of dollars of an asset that is yours and mine and everybody’s in the country,” of which he shamelessly took a hefty slice.
Now, we see that Warner waded back into state-level politics this past June to offer retiring Democrat Senator Phil Puckett a federal judicial appointment for his daughter in exchange for Puckett’s staying in the Senate, thus keeping that body in Democrat hands. As the senior Senator from Virginia, Warner by custom is given a great deal of deference by the president in choosing federal judges for districts within his state. So while Obama would technically make the appointment, Warner would supply the president the name.
Folks, this is dirty, however it is spun. We’ve heard that, “this is the way business has always been done,” and howls about how the focus on this kind of thing basically makes politics against the law. Hogwash. It’s one thing to horse trade on matters of political interest (e.g., “I’ll support your budget bill, but I want to first make sure you’ve got my back when it comes to my education bill”), but it’s quite another to entice people’s actions with taxpayer-funded income streams. That’s just plain bribery, and for too long has been the means of the most powerful to maintain that power at the expense of the general public.
That’s the message that Ed must carry: that Warner’s ethics, like those of the president he follows 97% of the time, are questionable, especially when there is political advantage to be gained.Gillespie has done a remarkable job so far in calibrating his campaign to perform just like it should; he’s struck the balance necessary to keep Democrat donors and third-party PACs interested in other races while saving enough energy and resources to make a last minute sprint to bring this race close. But, if the polls are to be believed, Gillespie is hamstrung by the fact that 10-15% or more of self-identified Republicans appear to be backing Warner. To win, Ed has to get that number way down, and bring those errant Republicans home (including those who just vote for someone named Warner out of long habit). Hence, the strategy of tagging Warner with being a handmaiden for the president 97% of the time. Now that Ed has received the gift of Mark Warner’s unfolding bribery scandal, he should take advantage of it to the fullest extent possible for the same reason.
None of this means browbeating Warner, or shouting like a crazy person about the injustice of it all. That’s ineffective, and in any case isn’t Ed’s style. My advice to the Gillespie team is this: let Ed be Ed. Let him go be himself and go for Warner’s jugular the same way he used to eviscerate Democrats on the Sunday shows as Chairman of the RNC. His instincts are good enough not to cross any lines or push it so far that it backfires. But right now, Warner is at the most vulnerable point in his political career. To not capitalize on that, or to rely on the news media to capitalize on it for you, would be a huge mistake.
Warner’s on the ropes. Keep him there.