Mr. Lewis is wrong is more ways than I can even begin to explain. Jerry Kilgore’s death penalty ads were both a major part of his election loss and a symptom of the other major problems with his campaign. (Let me note that I had this race called correctly weeks ago, and that I do this for a living, so I feel entitled to blather a bit, so indulge me.)
The ads definitely backfired: late polls suggested that a strong plurality of the people who saw them were less likely to vote for Kilgore than they had been before seeing them. And those ads were so bad, so over-the-top, that I could not stop myself from laughing when I saw them. It was a bad sign already that I would laugh at the guy in the commercials as he went on and on about the brutal murder of his son and daughter-in-law. The Hitler business was only icing on the cake.
If you thought those commercials were good, let me suggest that you are engaging in the kind of wishful thinking that is not conducive to political analysis.
The problem is not that people disagree with the death penalty — they embrace it by a wide margin, particularly in Virginia. The problem is
1) The death penalty was not a relevant issue in Virginia at any time during this election
2) The ads were just freaking awful
3) Kaine had the perfect response to it, and
4) The death penalty campaign was obviously disingenous anyway.
The real issue here is that the idiots on Kilgore’s staff thought that this was a good way to throw red meat to conservatives without having to commit to a real stance on taxes or abortion — issues that are far more important than the death penalty when it comes to motivating the conservative base. Voters saw through it all, and in the end the joke was on Mr. Kilgore.
I knew weeks ago that Kilgore was going to lose when Virginia Republicans started telling me at the Evans-Novak Political Report that Bush’s problems were making it difficult for Kilgore. This is Matt’s "Zeitgeist" excuse, and I knew that it was total crap the second I heard it. If this was a "Zeitgeist" problem, then why did I already know that Bill Bolling and Bob McDonnell were going to win their downticket races for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General? And why did they win?
I’ll tell you why — because they are real conservatives and they offered their base a reason to come out and support them. Kilgore is not and did not. Kilgore was running in Virginia, but he campaigned as though he were running in Maryland. That’s why he ran those ads, and it’s why he lost — and it’s also why the ads backfired. The people who made his ads and ran his campaign should never work in politics again.