Cross-posted at The New Dominion
The race for the GOP nomination in the 24th Senate District is hotter than the Shenandoah Valley in early August. Emmett Hanger, the incumbent, is facing a challenge from what appears to be a viable contender in businessman Scott Sayre. This race is receiving a lot of attention from the local media, and has stirred a lot of controversy amongst the political blogs of Virginia.
Now, as many people know, I don’t really have a horse in this race. While all the state elections will have an some sort of an effect on me, I don’t live in the 24th District. However, given the intensity of the race, the district’s geographical proximity to me, and the fact that my editor at The New Dominion, Chris Graham, has been accused of having a “pro-Hanger” agenda…I have no choice but to succumb to the temptation to make observations and give my two cents.
Sayre has the support of a large majority of the local party chairs in the district. He also has a group of bloggers that have subsequently called themselves “Bloggers4Sayre”. Coincidentally (or maybe not), most of the members of Bloggers4Sayres are also part of a larger conglomerate known as “CASTLE” (which stands for Conservatives Against Short-sighted Truth-challenged Liberal Elites, in case you didn’t know). This group is very much a right-wing bunch. Pro-military, small government, low taxes, and so on. There is nothing wrong with this, and in a “policy position” sense, I can agree with them on quite a few issues.
The Bloggers4Sayre have made it their mission to get Scott Sayre nominated over 12-year incumbent Emmett Hanger. They have built their case against Hanger on three main points, as well as few peripheral issues.
Their first point is built upon the fact that Hanger voted for Mark Warner’s tax increase in 2004, even though the state had a budget surplus. Sayre, in opposing fashion, is one of many nominees in the state of Virginia who have signed a “No-Tax Pledge”, which states that if they do get elected to office, they will never raise taxes. Hanger’s tax increase vote has allowed these pro-Sayre bloggers to give him the not-so-flattering label of a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only).
The second key issue in the case against Emmett Hanger surrounds the amount of out-of-district funding he is receiving. The latest campaign finance reports (for the quarter ending on 03/31) showed that Hanger was receiving the vast majority of his campaign donations from outside of the district (most of which came from a special interest group in Northern Virginia), where Sayre was receiving almost all of his money from within the district. Sayre supporters believe that this is an indicator that Sayre is gaining traction within the district amongst voters.
The third main issue the pro-Sayre bloggers have brought up is Hanger’s remarks about how grassroots workers are “insignificant“. Naturally, the local GOP chairs, the campaign “street teams”, and the Republican bloggers have taken offense to being considered not important enough to worry about…and basically considered to be not influential in the outcome of an election. I read Sen. Hanger’s remarks, and it seems he has both praised and criticized the grassroots. Personally, I would think that a man who has been in office as long as Hanger has should know not to say anything bad about those who bust their backsides, only to receive little or nothing in return (other than their candidate‘s possible victory).
Hanger’s statements that the Sayre supporters were a fringe group of “anti-tax” and “anti-government extremists” did not sit well with this group. I can’t believe it has sat well with many conservatives, who I would think would want taxes lowered or eliminated if necessary.
The pro-Sayre bloggers do have some valid points, and they have done a fantastic job of getting their nominee-of-preference some name recognition amongst the general Virginia blogosphere, which is normally focused on the Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Tidewater Regions when it comes to which campaigns to focus on.
However, I have noticed some things that are a bit, well, odd to say the least.
The first oddity is that there seems to be a bit of a divide between Sayre and the bloggers that support him. Sayre runs on his anti-tax platform, he shows up at various events, and he takes a very measured approach to how he goes about campaigning. He talks about what he stands for, and focuses on his platforms in a fairly positive sense.
Meanwhile, it seems that the bloggers that support him take a bit more of a maverick approach to obtaining their goal of getting Sayre nominated. Their general objective is to “reveal the true Emmett Hanger”. While Sayre tells us why we should vote for him, the bloggers are supposedly telling us why we shouldn’t vote for Hanger.
To use such a two-sided approach isn’t necessarily a bad way to go about running a campaign. However, there are some questions about the nature in which the pro-Sayre bloggers have gone about making their claims about Hanger.
While the claims of Hanger receiving a large percentage of his campaign money from outside the district, there are those who find it hypocritical that they bring up this topic. The reason behind this is because approximately half of the Sayre bloggers reside outside of the district as well. While it is hard to compare outside money to outside verbal support…there is enough relation between the two that the pro-Sayre bloggers should not be surprised when they come under fire for this.
Another reason these Sayre supporters have come under fire is due to a misperception of influence that they have in the Virginia political spectrum. To their credit, these bloggers have done an excellent job of creating a lot of commotion for their cause. They’ve created a sizeable enough network of bloggers to bounce back-and-forth between each other’s sites and comment on each other’s posts.
What this does is increase the amount of internet traffic they generate. Aggregators like “BlogNetNews” use various methods to track this information in an attempt to gauge the amount of influence each blog has in the state of Virginia, as related to other blogs. By moving themselves higher up in the influence category, they also attract new readers to their various blogs, thus spreading their messages of support for Scott Sayre to a lot of people.
Some bloggers, however, have taken some offense to this…as they feel it creates an unfair representation of the true influence these Sayre supporters have in the digital world of Virginia politics. The fact that the Sayre bloggers are unabashedly proud of their influence rankings does add fuel to the animosity held against them.
Personally, I can’t blame them for doing what they‘ve done in that regard. If you’ve got a group of people who are all supporting a cause, you do as much as you can to spread your message. While it may not be the most honest representation of their true influence…you have to give these bloggers credit for figuring out “the system” and making the most of their opportunity.
However, once again, they should be so surprised and defensive when they come under fire for what others feel is a misrepresentation of their influence (or importance). Nor should they be so quick to throw out accusations of “having a pro-Hanger agenda” when someone questions their actions.
I'm not here to make judgments on the actions of either the Hanger campaign or the Sayre campaign. What I am doing is passing along observations of what I've seen over the past couple of months.
In short, I’ve found this whole campaign to be an interesting study in internet politics. You’ve got a group of people dedicated to a cause, and are doing everything in their power to promote that cause. At the same time, they need to realize that with the spotlight will come criticism. If that criticism isn’t handled correctly, it could very well cause serious damage to the cause they support.