The big gossip yesterday in Virginia’s blogosphere was that Ben Tribbett has decided not to run for state senate in the 31st District. The interesting bit here is that while Sen. Dick Saslaw (the Majority Leader in the Virginia State Senate) has made it clear that he supports Barbara Favola, there has been a lot of people who have expressed some opposition to the way that Saslaw has been using some back room channels in an attempt to clear the field for Barbara. Many people, for instance, claim that this is a major part of the reason that Del. Bob Hope decided not to run for the seat. It’s this opposition to Saslaw’s decision to supposedly use these tactics that was the primary basis for Ben’s campaign.
Looking back at almost all of the stories that covered Ben’s potential candidacy, almost every story had at least a quote or two about Ben’s frustration with Saslaw. What wasn't immediately apparent, however, was that this frustration goes way beyond how Saslaw handled the primary process. When the General Assembly was in session earlier this year, for instance, Ben was constantly saying Democrats needed a stronger leader than Saslaw. This was especially the case after an anti-choice bill slipped through the state senate despite the chamber having a Democratic majority.
Given his history of criticizing Saslaw and that Ben wasn’t quoted much talking about issues that are likely to be a part of any race in Northern Virginia (transportation, neighborhood development, education) and most the behind the scenes chatter focused on his opposition to the majority leader, you have to wonder if Ben’s main goal in having his named considered was simply to draw more attention to how little he thought of Saslaw. After all, he did do something similar in 2005 when he basically ran against a former state Delegate from Burke who is now in the State Senate (anyone who has followed Ben’s blog likely knows exactly who I’m talking about).
This isn’t to say that Ben wouldn’t have put forward a progressive platform, it’s simply that he never did and seemed to be focusing a large portion of his time to criticizing Saslaw. He even wrote a post recently that explained why he hadn’t been posting much by saying, “this is what I’ve been dealing with” and linking to a story about discussing the criticism of Saslaw’s involvement in the primary process. Note that with his “this is what I’ve been dealing with,” Ben wanted to draw attention to his criticisms of Saslaw and not the discussions he was having about the issues.
With all that being said, it isn’t too uncommon for people to leak that their considering a bid for office in order to advance whatever issue they’re passionate about. In a story about Ron Paul’s decision to form a presidential exploratory committee, for example, the Washington Post highlighted how many of his supporters didn’t think he could win but thought he could steer the GOP debates more towards the idea of limiting government. And in 2008, supporters of John Edwards stuck with him long after it was clear he wouldn’t win because they liked that he caused other candidates to focus on poverty. In those cases, many activists considered their campaigns to be a success for the issues they supported even though they didn't win. I would tend to agree. The obvious difference with Ben is that he was focusing attention on his opposition to Saslaw instead of an issue like poverty, but it’s still the same concept that he was able to get a lot of attention to a single issue by keeping his name in the ring for awhile.
So if the point of Ben considering a campaign for state Senate was to get some attention for his concerns about Saslaw, then you have say that the media coverage he received gave him a victory. The question now is whether Ben was right to focus so much of his energy on Saslaw, or if it would have been better served by drawing attention to the progressive values he thought a candidate should run on (whether that be him or somebody else).