The 2012 Virginia Senate race is shaping up as a contest between former Governor and Senator George F. Allen, and former Governor Tim Kaine, both establishment candidates in the legacy parties and heavily favored to win their respective nominations. They will couch their messages in terms calculated to resonate with Virginia voters. But once elected, if recent history is any guide, their legislative priorities will diverge significantly from the priorities of the voters who elect them because they will be heavily influenced by special interests that finance their campaigns.

The Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), when fully developed, enables Virginia voters to upset their respective apple carts. In my last post, I described its potential impact on Jim Moran’s next campaign in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, and explained how the IVCS could lead to the formation of a voting bloc or electoral coalition that could make Jim Moran, or an alternative candidate selected by the voting bloc, accountable to the voting bloc or coalition and its policy agenda. In this post, I’ll do a similar analysis of the Senate race focusing on Tim Kaine.

Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine has had a notable career as a Democratic Party centrist. As an attorney he built a very good reputation as an advocate for victims of housing bias based on race and disabilities. In 1994, after 10 years of practice, he was elected to the Richmond City Council. In 1998, the Council elected him Mayor of Richmond. In 2001, he was elected to the position of Lieutenant Governor with 925,974 votes, 50.35% of the total. This was a narrow win, but Kaine had become closely associated with the very popular Mark Warner during his term, and in 2005, with Warner’s strong support, he was elected Governor with 1,025,942 votes, 51.72% of the total, a margin of 6% over his Republican opponent Jerry Kilgore.

Kaine governed as a centrist. He balanced the budget, emphasized transportation development and funding, continued Warner’s strong support for education, emphasized conservation, signed an Executive Order banning smoking, and, in general, tried to promote balanced growth for the State. Kaine has been a strong supporter and friend of Barack Obama who named him to chair the Democratic National Committee. He was on Obama’s short list for the Vice Presidential nomination, and the president has recently indicated that he thinks Tim Kaine, who has yet to formally announce his candidacy for the US Senate, would make a fine successor to the departing Jim Webb. Since George Allen has announced his candidacy for the 2012 US Senate race in Virginia on the Republican line, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Tim Kaine will be the Democratic Party’s choice to try to hold that Senate seat for the Democrats against George Allen’s attempt to return to the Senate.

Visualizing the Potential Impact of the IVCS on Tim Kaine and the Democratic Party

In my last post analyzing the potential impact of the IVCS on Jim Moran’s upcoming re-election campaign, and also in a number of others, I’ve written about how the IVCS environment will enable its members to form initially small voting blocs around specific policy agendas and then how, through problem solving, collaboration, negotiation and compromise, aided by IVCS social networking facilities, smaller voting blocs can aggregate into ever larger ones, and finally into electoral coalitions unifying millions of people in support of a policy agenda they share. If you’re interested in these details please read the posts linked to above and also “2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests”, and then try to visualize how things might work in the US Senate race coming up in Virginia in 2012.

Start by generalizing the scenario I provided for Jim Moran’s Congressional race in the Virginia 8th to all 11 Congressional Districts in Virginia. In the Congressional scenario, I highlighted trans-partisan voting blocs that were focused on the 8th Congressional District. But the IVCS enables such voting blocs and electoral coalitions to easily organize on a cross-district basis because it is web-based and uses social networking technologies to interconnect voters with similar policy priorities irrespective of where they live. In fact, the natural mode of voting bloc organization is initially around policy options and policy agendas, not around specific election districts. So we are as likely to see cross-district, and even cross-state voting blocs emerge and organize around policy options and agendas as we are to see them focus their memberships to conform to political boundaries like local, state, and Congressional District boundaries in order to further those agendas. Given the demographics of Congressional Districts, they are likely to provide voting blocs the most fertile ground for initially flexing their political muscles. Once the voting blocs start organizing by Congressional Districts, however, they will quickly recognize that they can also mount campaigns and primary challenges to major party incumbents and favored candidates for any offices elected by state voters, whether they are local, state or federal. So, let’s visualize the situation in Virginia in a typical House and Senate election year, assuming the IVCS is in place.

First, let’s take a typical House election year. To get a candidate on the ballot and ensure a primary challenge to at least one of the major Party candidates in each District, the IVCS voting block in each of the 11 Congressional Districts would need to gather at least 1500 petition signatures from qualified voters per district, for a total of at least 16,500 signatures.

Second, let’s take a Senate race. To meet state requirements for getting a single primary candidate for the US Senate in Virginia on the primary election ballot, it would be very easy for IVCS voting bloc members to gather another 1500 in each District, that is, another 16,500, at the same time. Since Virginia requires 10,000 qualified voters total and at least 400 from each of its 11 Congressional Districts, and recommends that 15,000 – 20,000 be gathered with at least 700 from each Congressional District, the voting bloc would easily meet Virginia’s requirement for entering a candidate in a major Party primary.

This means that Tim Kaine, currently viewed as a “shoo-in” choice of the Democratic Party, assuming that he decides he will run for the US Senate, could easily face a voting bloc primary challenge in 2012 if there’s no agreement between himself and the voting bloc on a common agenda, and the bloc decides to enter its own candidate in the primary. Of course, if there is no agreement between Kaine and the voting bloc on a policy agenda, this divergence doesn’t guarantee that Kaine would lose a primary challenge to a voting bloc supported candidate. However, what would favor a voting bloc candidate’s victory in the primary is the fact that US Senate primary elections in Virginia have very low turnouts and highly motivated blocs of primary voters can determine the outcome even if their numbers are small. For example, there was a 3.45% turnout for the Jim Webb/Harris Miller Democratic Party primary race in 2004. Jim Webb won with 83,298 votes, which was 53.47 percent of the votes cast.

If Tim Kaine were expecting stiff primary opposition, the Democratic Party could mount a major effort to support him. But considering that the Senate primary race occurs months after the presidential primary in Virginia, the turnout potential for the major parties is much more similar to what it is in an off-year congressional election. Most probably, the most the Party organization would be able to produce is the turnout that occurred in the three-way hotly contested gubernatorial primary of 2009. That primary had a turnout of 6.3%, and was won by Creigh Deeds with close to 158,000 votes, very close to 50% of the approximately 319,000 votes cast.

This previous history suggests that a voting bloc candidate who would be a very safe prospect for an electoral victory in a Virginia US Senate primary would probably require no more than 200,000 votes, or an average of roughly 18,000 per Congressional District. In the 2008 general election, Democrats won 6 of the 11 Virginia Congressional Districts, and 2 of the 3 in Northern Virginia. They received over 200,000 votes in 3 of the 6, and between 140,000 and 200,000 in the other three. They also garnered between 114,000 and 150,000 in each of the 5 Congressional Districts in which they were defeated. In view of these 2008 general election vote totals, and the fair amount of Democratic strength in all Congressional Districts in most regions of the state, an average of 18,000 primary votes in each Congressional District for a Senate candidate it supports seems well within the reach of a statewide voting bloc, since it is less than 10% of the general election total, and we can expect stronger commitments among voting bloc members translating into higher percentage turnouts in primary elections than parties normally receive because IVCS forged social bonds are likely to be much stronger than political party ties.

Considering that Jim Webb won the VA Senate Democratic primary in 2004 with 83,298 votes, even a voting bloc candidate that could command only 100,000 votes, an average of roughly 9,000 per Congressional District, would present a very significant challenge to a Tim Kaine candidacy, and may well persuade him to embrace the voting bloc’s agenda in the primary. Whether or not he does that, however, the voting bloc can be expected to easily arrive at the 18,000 average votes needed per District to produce a very safe electoral margin. That’s because the number of Democratic voters and other voters of various persuasions whom the voting bloc can bring into the primary is substantial and sufficient to elect the bloc’s candidate, due to the following factors:

– Widespread dissatisfaction of voters across the political spectrum with the legislative track records of known candidates and incumbents of both parties as expressed in polls,

– Lack of responsiveness of major party candidates and incumbents to mainstream voters’ current economic and financial difficulties, as reflected in their inability to develop a job creation strategy that works, a strategy that halts foreclosures and stabilizes the real estate market, a strategy that will clean up the financial system continually victimizing Americans, and a strategy that provides good health care at a stable price that working Americans can afford.

– The IVCS-enabled voting bloc will be able to use IVCS agenda-setting tools to mobilize disaffected voters to define their policy priorities across the board, rather than being restricted to the confines of party alignments, and participate in creating a written legislative mandate for their candidate.

– The web-based consensus-building tools of the IVCS will create stronger social ties and loyalties among voting bloc supporters than the legacy Parties can create among voters contemptuous of their prior track records.

These four factors will make it possible for the IVCS-enabled bloc to create a larger electoral base of motivated voters than Kaine’s base of disaffected Democrats, and in turn lead to a higher turnout, and it will also allow the bloc to do that without recourse to large amounts of campaign money because if its use of IVCS organizing facilities. Since the requirement of 200,000 votes is less than 5% of the total votes available, it’s not a very high bar to overcome.

As with the scenario I outlined for Jim Moran’s upcoming re-election effort, if Tim Kaine earned the backing of the voting bloc in the primary in exchange for supporting its agenda, and then won the primary with the votes of the voting bloc, the bloc could keep the pressure on Kaine during the general election by putting up a “back-up” candidate on the Independent line or on the line of a third party. The bloc could shift its support to this candidate in the event Kaine reneged on his support of the bloc’s agenda during the campaign. On the other hand, if Kaine maintained his advocacy of the bloc’s agenda, then the bloc would go all out to use IVCS consensus-building tools to forge a winning electoral coalition and drive its voters to the polls to ensure that Kaine wins the general election in 2012.

The 2008 Senate race was won by Mark Warner with a total of 2.37 million votes (65% of the 3.64 million votes cast). That race had a high turnout of about 72.4% of the total number of registered voters since it was held during the 2008 presidential election. Assuming that it’s unlikely that turnout in 2012 would exceed 75% of the total number of registered voters in the Senate race, and that total votes would exceed 3.9 million, then I infer that a safe total needed by Kaine or any of his opponents to win would be about 2 million votes.

The requirement for IVCS then, is to deliver an average of 182,00 votes per Congressional District, to ensure the election of Tim Kaine, provided that he remains committed to the voting bloc’s agenda, or its alternative candidate, if he defaults on his commitment to the bloc’s agenda. If turnout is less than 75% and the growth in registered voters is less than I’ve projected, then the requirement might fall to as low as an average of 162,000, many less than the average of 215,000 who voted for Mark Warner.

Can an IVCS-enabled voting bloc build an electoral base with 2 million+ voters? I think it can, because it can use the broad repertory of IVCS web-based consensus-building tools, including an online Voting Utility, to forge a winning electoral coalition with other voting blocs, political parties, labor unions and grassroots advocacy groups. It can do this by involving Virginia voters in setting an agenda FAR MORE to their liking than anything that Tim Kaine can come up with. That agenda can be transpartisan and incorporate priorities that the Democratic Party and Kaine’s special interest campaign contributors would normally oppose, priorities like direct federal job creation, Medicare for All, etc. The voting bloc could mobilize many very angry and eligible voters who have been staying away from the polls, once they see it get a commitment from Tim Kaine to support an agenda that they participated in formulating with no special interest influence as part of the process.

To accomplish this, the voting bloc or electoral coalition most likely will have to agree on a more broadly shared agenda than those that were agreed upon for the Congressional elections and candidates. Generally speaking, the diversity of opinion in any of the 50 states may well be greater than the diversity in any one Congressional District. So, the shared policy agenda negotiated by the members of the statewide Senatorial voting bloc may well require more prolonged negotiation and turn out to be more diverse in its policy options than the shared policy agendas of Congressional District voting blocs. Members of the statewide Senatorial voting blocs will need to negotiate the policy priorities to be included in these shared agendas, and here the IVCS consensus-building tools, particularly the Voting Utility, will facilitate setting the broader shared agendas that will be required to create the broader electoral base that the bloc will need to obtain Kaine’s support for its agenda AND get him elected in an anti-incumbent era.

With skillful negotiation, and a willingness to compromise, the statewide Senatorial voting blocs will be able to bring broad cross-sections of voters into winning, broad-based electoral coalitions that override the vitriolic divisiveness engendered by the legacy parties. This will be a further development of the bottom-up democratic process that leads to voting bloc emergence, and that intensifies the sense of belonging, loyalty and commitment that people will have to the voting blocs.

Generally speaking, as these voting blocs rack up electoral victories in major party primaries throughout the country, they will begin to democratize and revitalize the major parties, by ensuring that voters control their agendas and determine who wins their elections. In the case of the Virginia Senate race, success in the 2012 Congressional and Senatorial races, coupled with outreach to party officials and membership to persuade them to align their efforts with those of IVCS-enabled voting blocs, will accelerate the democratization and revitalization of the Democratic Party of Virginia and its alignment with its historic mission of representing mainstream Americans, rather than special interests.

Conclusion

This post continues my analysis of how the IVCS will work to empower the U.S. electorate to wrest control of elections from special interests. My previous post on the IVCS and Jim Moran, outlined how things would work at the Congressional level. This post extends the analysis to the level of the election for the US Senate in Virginia.

The Democrats are in a ditch of their own making in Virginia, because of their very poor performance in Congress since the President’s election, and his own failure to ease the pain of mainstream Americans, while he created the conditions that have allowed the very well-off to further increase their wealth. Tim Kaine’s close association and friendship with Obama, and his identification as a centrist, organizational Democrat, could be a real deal-killer for many 2012 Virginia voters, in spite of the fact that Kaine was a popular Governor. That’s because of high unemployment rates, for which Obama is now blamed, and because Kaine may simply have too much baggage to carry to be successful in a conventional party campaign in an anti-incumbent era in which special interest-funded right wing fringe groups like the Tea Party have taken center stage in non-stop media wars. Moreover, even though the big money he will likely get from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and special interests may help him with political messaging ads, the ads, and the money used to pay for them, may well add to that baggage by providing tangible proof of his association with interests widely held in contempt by voters.

George Allen may well run a full-throated Tea Party campaign that will pull out hordes of conservatives, Christian fundamentalists and Tea Party regulars. In such an environment, only an IVCS-enabled voting bloc capable of building a broad-based electoral coalition around voter-set agendas and getting out the vote without the aid of big money, could pull Kaine’s irons out of the fire, in terms of setting an appealing transpartisan (but not right wing) agenda that would attract the electoral base he needs to get those 2 million+ votes.

I believe that scenarios like the ones I’ve outlined for Virginia are generalizable across the country, and that Senate candidates, whether incumbent or not, can be persuaded to commit to, and also adhere to, agendas formulated by the voting blocs, especially since the blocs will offer the prospect of delivering large numbers of committed voters at very low cost. If this is correct, it means that voters can disconnect the two major parties from their corporate and special interest bonds and make them responsible to broad-based popular needs and desires once again. My next post will continue this analysis at the presidential election level and analyze the potential impact of the IVCS on the 2012 Presidential election and its aftermath.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).