FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include the lead-up to November’s gubernatorial election, the out-of-state influences in the race for Governor, and a fight over state computer services.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Hi there Craig.
CC: Recent polls are showing a tight race for the Virginia Governor’s mansion, but all of them are showing a narrow lead for Ralph Northam. To close this gap, Republican Ed Gillespie is holding a listening tour around the state.
JS: And these appearances around the state are an opportunity for Gillespie to talk up his ideas and tear down Ralph Northam. Northam is refusing no more than three debates with Gillespie. So far there have been two, and so far those two have not been terribly newsworthy, which I guess as far as Ralph Northam is concerned is ideal. He and Gillespie will meet at their last formal debate on October 9. That’s a Monday, not exactly a high viewership or high listenership period. And they’ll be meeting, in of all places, far southwest Virginia. Not a lot of people out there, are there? And it is one of the most Republican corners of the state. Now that one candidate, in this case Ed Gillespie, you know, is very publically attempting to generate extra facetime can be taken, at least, as a sign of trouble, not necessarily a guarantee of trouble. And I would only point those polls. They are a snapshot in time, really a kind of curiosity, and they tend to show Gillespie behind, though sometimes within the margin of error, but the polls have consistently put Northam out front. But this big push by Gillespie is accompanied by a largely unspoken message. He wants to be seen, Gillespie that is, wants to be seen as energetic. He is vowing to give the governorship his all. In contrast, Northam is supposed to be perceived as low-energy, somehow phoning in this campaign by seemingly concentrating on the vote-rich regions of Virginia that are friendliest to Democrats. And of course that would include the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
CC: And Jeff, both campaigns are calling in some big names for assistance.
JS: And those big names, former President George Bush, the Democratic nominee for presidency in 2016 Hillary Clinton, and former President Barack Obama are being called in primarily to help raise money. The Bush crowd is expected to roll into Virginia in October. This appearance by the former President, I would argue, could be somewhat tricky for Gillespie. He needs a lot of Trump voters to pull off this race, and a lot of those Trump voters are suspicious of Gillespie’s establishment credentials. But they’re furious with George W. Bush. Remember, he’s the guy they see as generating these huge deficits and plunging this country into two seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now Northam is going up to New York on Wednesday and will appear with Hillary Clinton, no doubt rummaging through the cash pots of Manhattan. There is a lot of hedge fund money, a good deal of which goes to Democrats. President Obama, former President Obama, is expected to make an appearance in the state, likely in northern Virginia, but its fundraising component is still a work in progress.
CC: An expensive fight over the state’s computer services has been playing out in court this week.
JS: Circuit Court judge hearing in Richmond this week ordered the state and its IT contractor Northrop Grumman to make nice while they go through this divorce. The idea here is to unravel a relationship of more than a decade in which Northrop Grumman has been the primary, if not the sole, purveyor of IT services to the state. This particular issue has to do with messaging services for the state. Northrop Grumman has been ordered by that judge to continue supplying that service while Virginia goes about the business of looking for a new provider. While that search is going on, this judge says, Northrop Grumman has a responsibility to continue providing those services, but the state has a responsibility to pay Northrop Grumman the nearly five million dollars it owes for those services. This relationship, of course, goes back nearly fifteen years when Governor Mark Warner, now a U.S. Senator, pitched that the taxpayers could save a lot of money over the long haul with a single IT provider. Now that contract has already cost 2.4 billion dollars. It has been contentious and expensive. It’s defied four governors. It is angering legislators, and it has kept an army of lobbyists employed. At the same time, agencies have had to deal with outages and other gaps in services.
CC: Jeff, we’re watching the closest races for the House of Delegates. This week we’re going to take a look at southwest Virginia.
JS: Specifically what down there is known as the 12th House District. Republican incumbent Joseph Yost, who has a reputation for solid constituent services, is being challenged by a Democrat, a former television journalist, for whom gun control is a defining issue. The Democratic challenger, Chris Hurst, you may remember, it was his girlfriend and colleague who was shot dead about two years ago on the air by an irate former employee at the television station for which all three worked. The district includes the Town of Blacksburg and Montgomery County. These are areas of the state, localities that can be friendly to Democrats in high turnout years, in particular presidential years, but this is a contest in a Republican gerrymandered district in an off year. It is a reminder that every election in Virginia has a different electorate. And because this is a lower turnout year, that potentially magnifies the strength of that district’s most reliable voters – white, older, male – in a word Republican.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Good weekend to you.