Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Not Playing in Poquoson

When Jim Webb scored an upset victory against Republican incumbent George Allen in last year's Virginia Senate race, he instantly achieved "rock star" status in Democratic circles. Webb's triumph was widely interpreted as a political thunderbolt, proof that electoral trends are shifting in the Old Dominion, and positioning the freshman Senator as a future presidential contender, or (perhaps) a Vice-Presidential nominee in 2008 or 2012.

Barely eleven months after Webb's Senate victory, it appears that the bloom is off the political rose, so to speak. A new SurveyUSA poll finds Virginia residents almost evenly split on Senator Webb's job performance. According to the survey, 46% of Virginians approve of Webb's performance, while 42% disapprove. By comparison, the state's retiring senior senator, Republican John Warner, has a job approval rating of 65%, a figure that's been consistent during much of his 30-year career.

Both Mr. Webb (and the Newport News, VA Daily Press, which analyzed the poll) attributed the low numbers to his status as a junior senator, trying to "make himself known" to constituents. According to the Daily Press (gag alert) "Webb's national fame has yet to translate into broad support among Virginia voters." Senator Webb told the paper that he hasn't seen the SurveyUSA poll, but was "not surprised" by the findings.

"I'm doing what I think needs to be done," he said. "I think people are still beginning to get to know me."

And that may be the problem. As Spook86 has noted in past posts on Mr. Webb's meteoric rise, Virginians have learned a lot about their millionaire lawyer and novelist-turned-senator over the past 18 months, and many find him lacking. For starters, there was the baseless campaign smear against George Allen, accusing him of using the "n" word to describe black teammates during his days as a college quarterback. Or, using his son--a Marine then serving in Iraq--as a campaign prop, campaigning across the state while wearing the younger Webb's combat boots.

But Senator Webb was only getting warmed up. Even before taking the oath of office, he had a celebrated dust-up with President Bush at the White House. When Mr. Bush asked how Webb's son was doing in Iraq, Webb turned the query into cheap political theater, responding that he wanted his son home. To his credit, President Bush replied, "I didn't ask you that; I asked how your son was doing." Details of the private conversation were promptly leaked to the press, along with Webb's admonition that he wanted to "slug" the President. By all accounts, the source for the story was none other than Jim Webb.

Once in office, Mr. Webb quickly aligned himself with the Kennedy-Schumer-Pelosi wing of the Democratic Party, pledging to work for "economic fairness," and to force a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. But on those "cornerstone" issues, Webb has come up a bit short. His proposal to limit troop deployments was widely rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate, which also defeated his plan to provide higher G.I. Bill benefits for recent military vets.

During that stretch, Webb also had a Meet the Press smackdown with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, affirming his reputation as a Senate hothead who doesn't mesh well with his colleagues, and has trouble getting things done. Webb's inability to pass the G.I. Bill increase is particularly telling; six years into the War on Terror, passage of that bill--authored by a senator who is a genuine war hero--should have been a slam dunk.

Webb's early travails in the Senate haven't been lost on his constituents, and that's a big reason for his middling poll numbers, although his friends at the Daily Press won't tell you that. In fact, Webb seems to be out of his element in the go-along, get-along world of the United States Senate. When a reporter suggested that he might be a Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee next year, Webb broke into a wide grin, downplaying the possibility, but refusing to rule it out.

Barely 10 months into his Senate term, Jim Webb already sounds like someone who's ready to move on--with good reason. It's a long way to 2012, but a 42% disapproval rating won't get you re-elected in Virginia, or any other state. Many voters in the Old Dominion know Jim Webb well enough, and they don't like what they see. Assuming that the negatives remain high--and Senator Webb certainly has the political "style" to achieve that goal--his 7,000 vote plurality against George Allen could easily morph into a major defeat the next time around.

Republicans shouldn't be over-confident. After all, if George Allen had run anything approaching a competent campaign, he'd still be in the Senate. But Jim Webb remains a polarizing figure, a politician who doesn't resonate with large numbers of Virginia voters. From what they've seen so far, Webb isn't "playing in Poquoson"--and lots of other communities in the Old Dominion. The GOP should do whatever it can to remind voters of that fact.

***

ADDENDUM: Along with his lack of civility and new found liberalism, Jim Webb was also hurt by the "gun gaffe" earlier this year. When an aide attempted to carry Webb's handgun into a Senate office building--and was detailed by police--the Senator initially refused to acknowledge that the weapon was his own. In a state where gun rights are considered important, Webb's "weasel" response was viewed as an act of personal cowardice.

6 comments:

SwampWoman said...

You say "weasel", I say chickensh**.

Peter said...

Wow. Thanks Spook86. Now I know never to take your blog seriously again. This post reads like a little sore grapes rant by Mr. George "Macaca" Allen himself.

You're going to compare a freshman Senator's accomplishments and poll numbers to those of one of the most senior? Are you for real?? LOL.

This is partisan tripe, friend. You've got nothin'.

Conservative Futurist said...

Well gee, why shouldn't we compare poll numbers? After all, the people elected him with a majority (albeit a slim one), didn't they? Instead of calling that number a fluke, the democrats called it a mandate. According to democrats, the republicans are ruining the nation (and the Earth), so shouldn't Virginia's republican senior senator have poll numbers that show just how evil he is, right?

Of course not. reality doesn't work the way democrats think it does. The Virginia electorate is smarter than that. Webb's approval numbers are low not because he's an unknown, it's because the motives behind his ridiculous voting record remain unknown. What could possibly be feeding his logic? Certainly not democratic talking points...

The people who elected him with a majority are now rethinking that decision. It's the same reason Congress has approval ratings in the toilet - again, an all time low.

It's the (democratic) platform, stupid.

stavr0s said...

Metrosexuals in Northern Virginia will tire of this stereotypical Irish-American, redhead bully act. Has Webb based his persona on the "Dead End Kids" or some such theatrical production from the 1930s? Maybe. Doesn't matter. He's toast. He's the sh*t on the shingle.

Spook86 said...

Pete--Sorry, but your argument doesn't wash. John Warner's approval ratings have been consistently high throughout his career, largely because Virginians know him, trust him, and respect both his judgment and integrity. Read the Daily Press article again. Warner's ratings have been high throughout his career. He's never been in Webb territory.

Webb ran against an incumbent who waged one of the worst campaigns in recent political history--and still won by only 7,000 votes. He ran a nasty campaign (which didn't endear him to large numbers of Virginians), and since arriving in D.C., he's emerged as a polarizing figure who can't get anything done. No wonder he's all smiles when his name comes up as a possible Democratic V-P nominee.

Mark my words, Webb will emerge as a liability for the Democrats, both at the state and national levels.

Reno Sepulveda said...

You know after the shootings at Virginia Tech, I couldn't help but think of another gun toting lunatic. Jim Webb.

All the warning signs are there. Almost every picture I've seen of the man he looks as if his head is ready to explode. And by his own admission, at a simple inquiry about a member of his family his default response is violence.

Grab HIS guns now while you still can.