Tuesday, April 04, 2006

BOP's Stirling Newberry on Mark Warner

Heads up to my fellow Virginia political bloggers that Stirling Newberry of Blogging of the President has a post up assessing his first-hand impressions of Mark Warner (after, I believe, a recent appearance by Warner in Boston).

Stirling presents a very mixed review of Warner, with some strong positives as well as some questions, doubts, and negatives.

The most interesting part of Stirling's comments to me is he clearly describes a perception of Mark Warner that strongly contrasts the way Warner is regarded by many Virginians -- Republicans and Democrats alike.

Now, I know Stirling, as a blogging colleague and to a lesser extent offline. And, while I would not lay claim to "know" Mark Warner, as a Virginia Democrat and as someone working in VA state politics in 2003/2004, I've certainly seen Warner work a room on several occasions, as well as having the privilege of watching the 2004 state budget negotiations from a ring-side seat. Stirling is astute, Virginians love Warner, and what's left in the middle is the fact that right now Warner plays differently in Massachusetts than in the Old Dominion. The man is the same but the audience is different--and a presidential primary is about exporting the Virginia vision of Warner to 49 other states.

I hope the Warner campaign takes a look at Stirling's feedback, and analyzes how their internal image and narrative of Mark Warner maps or fails to map with the perception he may be creating outside the state--in other words, treat it as free focus group data. (Because I am confident that the Warner team's excellent online crew is monitoring blog chatter carefully.) In other words, don't bite the messenger; turn a bug into a feature instead. It doesn't matter who is "right" about Warner, it matters how voters *perceive* Warner, and this kind of data is a step towards closing that perception gap.

I also hope that Virginians who support Mark Warner for president recognize that our internal vision of Warner is not yet getting out into the broader national dialogue. This means that Warner supporters face an excellent opportunity, to participate in discussions like the comments following Stirling's post, and tell *our* story of Warner, and explain to Americans what we like about Mark Warner based on our first-hand experiences with him. If you support Warner, and if you seem him as more than a "nice guy technocrat," then go tell it from the mountain.

I realize that the concept of "Red State vs Blue State" is officially passé, but I predict we will see this dynamic resurface in the 2008 elections not so much in the partisan contests of the general election as inside the Democratic party's internal struggles with the presidential primary. The discussion around Stirling's post contains some pretty rough slams already against Virginia, southern states, and southern Democrats. Apparently the LBJ / Carter / Clinton legacy of winning southern Democrats is out of vogue in some circles. Expect more of the same between now and '08. [I hope the Warner campaign is thinking ahead on strategies to combat Southern Democrat Fatique--it would certainly make strategic sense for Hillary Clinton to fan these flames in the primary-- and I'm interested to see if the Warner campaign can frame and own this debate.]

Re-enacting the War Between the States inside the Democratic party however is not going to help take back the White House. And [not that Virginia bloggers would do this], showing up on national forums and taking cheap shots at "the north," or acting defensive about Warner, is more likely to convince the blog world that we are redneck hicks with no credibility in picking presidential winners than that we are sophisticated politicos. In other words, if Virginians want to support Warner effectively, we're going to have to take the high road in these discussions. (Catharsis and effectiveness rarely go hand in hand.)

I encourage members of the Virginia blog community to go and join in the discussion on BOP. And I'm very interested to hear your reaction to how "brand Warner" played in Boston.

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