Note: This column appeared in The Times (of Northwest Indiana) on November 12, 2009.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s true in life as well as in politics. So Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels should be flattered because, intended or not, Bob McDonnell’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race last week was based in part on the Daniels model.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Ed Gillespie, former White House Counselor and Republican National Committee Chairman during the 2004 election, says, “There are lessons in the Virginia governor’s race for both parties, but Republicans nationally would do well to take a few pages from McDonnell’s playbook.” Allow me to paraphrase, there are lessons in the style of campaigning and governing of Mitch Daniels for both parties, and Republicans nationally have done well by taking a few pages from Daniels’ playbook.
Case in point: Both McDonnell and Daniels defeated their opponent by 17 points in the face of seeing their respective state giving its Electoral College votes to a Democrat — in this case, Barack Obama — for the first time since 1964. Daniels was re-elected at the same time Obama won Indiana while McDonnell was able to emerge as the victor a full year later, which clearly indicates that this playbook is a winner and folks should take note.
McDonnell was successful because, as Gillespie points out, the candidate was able to “convert conservative principles into practical policies.” Sure much of his campaign was based on boosting Virginia’s economy by brining jobs to the state, but he also focused on a problem we all complain about, traffic congestion. By discussing the practical concerns of voters instead of just what insiders fret over, the campaign reached out to the all important independent voter.
This sounds a lot like Daniels, doesn’t it? He’s the poster child for taking traditionally conservative ideas and whipping them into practical recipes for success. Just as McDonnell spent time focusing on the amount of time Virginians spent in traffic, Daniels worked to cut our wait time at the BMW to manageable levels across the state.
Second, electoral success was reached by the plain-spoken language McDonnell used when talking to voters. Again, sounds a lot like Daniels. Although the gravitational pull of partisanship is strong during election season, Daniels and McDonnell were able to overcome the inclination for tossing around red meat rhetoric by tempering their choice of words. And it paid off.
When McDonnell was asked about Obama campaigning on behalf of his opponent, he said, “the president of the United States is always welcome in the commonwealth.” He could have taken a shot at the president, but he didn’t. Sometimes though, taking a shot is what’s needed.
When Daniels was asked about the myriad of issues plaguing Lake County during a stop in Griffith earlier this year, he was blunt in his response saying, “You are entitled to all the lousy, crummy graft-ridden government you are prepared to pay for.” Each audience demanded a different response, and both men delivered.
Republicans would be smart to use the Daniels-McDonnell model across the country in 2010 if they plan on taking home the prize and getting our country back on track.