No matter how sophisticated our information systems are today, we still have the capacity for falsehoods and mistakes. We are capable of stretching the truth, disseminating false information based on conclusions — and, on the other side, we in our foolishness and optimism about the nature of man are certainly capable of believing people when they say things. EVEN POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS.
Those who attended the convention in Richmond Saturday had a whirlwind of a night. Yes, E.W. Jackson won every round of voting for the nomination to Lieutenant Governor, but with seven candidates in the race, it wasn’t as simple as nominating from the head-to-head matchup between AG candidates Rob Bell and Mark Obenshain.
Here’s how it worked. After the speeches were complete, delegates voted on the first ballot for their desired nominees to fill the AG and LG spots. Since Mark Obenshain won 55% of the vote on the first round, his opponent was out — and graciously conceded the victory, and made the motion himself to nominate by acclimation. There being a 7-way split between the LG candidates, no one got over 50% of the vote. Since no one received a majority, the bottom two votegetters were eliminated, and the second round of voting commenced with the remaining five candidates. Since no one received a 50% majority on THAT ballot, the bottom two votegetters of the remaining five were eliminated, and the third round of voting commenced. Since no one received a 50% majority on THAT ballot, the bottom one votegetter was eliminated from the remaining three — making it a head-to-head matchup for the final round of voting.
After Round 1, and an interminable four hours of voting and counting, Jackson was in first place. — But wait! There were objections on the floor and by the unit chairs! After the votes had been counted, the eliminated candidates and the remaining candidates were announced — but no one knew who won! Oh, sure, people inferred who won (and those of us in the know had our sources), but no vote tallies or percentages were announced.Thus, in the minds of the delegates, the top five candidates could have each been tied at 15% of the votes. It wasn’t until well after the second round of voting had commenced that the numbers were announced.
Objections came from the Stimpson campaign, who placed second but was announced in the fourth slot. Basically, the announcement was, “The following candidates are still in the race: “Jackson, Stewart, Snyder, Stimpson, Lingamfelter.” Having no other information to go on, it is reasonable to assume that some voters inferred Stimpson to have placed fourth — especially considering her performance on the second ballot. Basically, with two candidates eliminated, the remaining five could have expected to see their weighted vote totals rise. They all did, but not as would be expected:
Jackson — read as placing first, and actually placed first — increased 18.1% in weighted votes on Ballot 2.
Stewart — read as placing second, actually placed third — increased 11.5%.
Snyder — read as placing third, actually placed fourth — increased 15.9%
But Stimpson — read as placing fourth, actually placed second – only increased her weighted votes by 3.9%.
The other eliminatee on the second round, Lingamfelter — read as placing fifth, actually placed fifth — had a similar showing, only increasing votes by 4.6%.
Stimpson had a valid objection, and she wasn’t the only one.
Unit chairs were not happy with the process, with one unit chair going so far as to say, “I’m calling Bullshit! They’re treating us like Democrats!” They insisted that the order should have been read correctly — along with the number of raw votes, weighted votes, and percentages. Why these numbers weren’t displayed on the stage screens we don’t know, but there were reports of a “technological problem” that prevented them doing so.
With Stimpson and Lingamfelter eliminated after the second round of voting, it was between the three who had been read as first, second, and third — Jackson, Stewart, and Snyder. Lingamfelter quickly endorsed Snyder, as did Jamie Radtke — a diehard Stimpson supporter. There were even rumors on Twitter about Stimpson herself throwing her weight behind Snyder, which prompted her to assure everyone she had abstained from endorsing anyone.
I do not endorse anyone on the next ballot!Best wishes to the winner!
— Susan Stimpson (@SusanBStimpson) May 18, 2013
This gave Snyder a huge advantage over Stewart going into Round 3, who had reportedly (remember that word) only picked up the comparatively obscure endorsement of Martha Boneta — a previous Lingamfelter supporter. Here’s where it gets interesting: As ballots were being counted, it became clear that Jackson and Snyder camps knew something we all didn’t. Loud cheers came from Snyder’s and Jacksons box suites, and their volunteers and supporters began parading the floor in conga-line style. People quickly inferred that Stewart had dropped to third — and was out. Jackson and Snyder took to the convention floor to rouse their supporters — Snyder’s fighters shielding themselves with the large 4′ x 8′ signs blazoning “Big Ideas,” and Jackson’s klaxons trumpeting his name with the smaller 18″ x 24″ signs.
That Jackson and Snyder had passed to Round 4, and that Stewart was out turned out to be the case. But during the void of information, know one still knew the percentages, and rumors started flying. Then this happened:
Team Snyder, armed with blue and yellow fliers, began heralding endorsements. “Stewart endorses Snyder!” was the cry. Tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts were flying. Live coverage of the event from all media sources believed the news. The delegates believed the news. Blue and yellow loose-leaves of letter littered the floor and the chairs. Then came another cry. “Obenshain endorses Snyder! Obenshain endorses Snyder!” Pete’s fleets grew louder and more raucous. Jackson’s faction, undeterred, kept its own morale, and continued its march.
Then came the numbers from the third ballot:
Jackson: 5,934.69 weighted votes — 49.71% of the total — a 30.2% increase in weighted votes.
Snyder: 3,652.97 weighted votes — 30.6% of the total — a 76.7% increase.
Stewart: 2350.34 weighted votes — 19.7% of the total — a mere 17.5% increase.
Suddenly things didn’t start to make sense. Why would Stewart and Obenshain endorse someone who would have to pick up virtually ALL of Stewart’s votes in order to win? In fact, it was reported that Jackson was a mere 15 raw votes shy of winning the third ballot outright. John Fredericks insisted an establishment coup was underway in a “Stop Jackson effort.” Conspiracies and rumors abounded. Then, as the last third-ballot numbers were read, the Stewart campaign staff (or volunteers) tried to make a motion from the floor. They were not objecting the numbers, they were objecting to the endorsement fliers on the floor. RPV Chair Pat Mullins was right there and dismissed the motion, ruling they could not object to literature on the floor. Then Corey Stewart himself got involved, calling Chairman Mullins over, insisting he be allowed to speak. Stewart heatedly insisted to Mullins he had not endorsed Snyder and that there were false fliers on the floor. Mullins looked perplexed, and a Stewart staffer threw a crumpled flier across the barricade to Mullins. “Corey did not endorse Snyder!” the Stewart supporter insisted, and Stewart himself continued his pleas to Mullins to rectify the situation.
Note the man on the right in the above photo. The rest of the confrontation I could not hear from my vantage point, but it lasted nearly a minute. During that time, however, Jackson supporters had figured out what was going on, and one crossed the barricade, stormed the stage, and shouted into the microphone while holding up the flier, “This is a lie! Stewart did not end—” at which time security and RPV staff began to ascend to the stage, shouting at him to get down.
After this happened, Stewart stormed away, followed by his staff. Corey Stewart raced over to find E.W. Jackson on the floor, who was still talking to his supporters, said a few words, and then together began a triumphant march around the hall — hand-in-hand, arms raised as if in sudden victory, proclaiming to anyone who would listen, “Stewart endorses Jackson! Stewart endorses Jackson!”
Stewart’s staff doffed one red hat for another, placed fresh and crisp “Jackson” stickers over their worn and tattered “Stewart” stickers, and marched in unison behind the newly-formed alliance.
Suddenly, the similar-looking Obenshain endorsements didn’t look so legitimate either. Indeed, Mark Obenshain jumped on it quick, tweeting about the erroneous fliers, although no names were mentioned.
Unfortunately there are flyers circulating that erroneously state that I have endorsed a candidate for LG..
— Mark Obenshain (@MarkObenshain) May 19, 2013
The rest has been history. The fourth round of voting had begun as the Jackson/Stewart duo marched around the floor. Tucker Obenshain, Mark’s daughter, canvassed the floor telling delegates her father had not endorsed any LG candidate. Jackson sailed on to an easy 58% victory on the fourth and final ballot.
So what happened?
At first glance, it appears obvious: The Snyder campaign deliberately and maliciously put these fliers out to influence the fourth round of voting and to discourage Jackson supporters.
But can we be sure that’s what really happened?
The real story is these campaigns print endorsement fliers as anticipatively as possible. Surely, these Obenshain/Stewart fliers sat alongside “Stimpson endorses Snyder” fliers and even “Jackson endorses Snyder.”
Could it be that rumor simply turned into action? Could it be that in this convention hall, a game of telephone ended up causing embarrassment of the worst kind to a campaign that had been previously impeccable, honest, and above the fray? Isn’t it more possible that a young, over-zealous, and over-eager intern or staffer overheard something, repeated it, and it found its way to the office? Yes, someone made the decision to copy without confirming directly with the Stewart campaign, and that decision was wrong. But when seconds count, and every vote counts, someone’s judgement-call turned into a disaster. It would make no sense for Snyder or his campaign to risk their reputation, especially with Mark Obenshain — a potential Attorney General! — with a fraudulent message on official campaign literature.
Remember that word reportedly regarding Martha Boneta? Well, after Lingamfelter dropped out, she was actually on the floor in a Snyder T-shirt and gave Pete an official endorsement. Yet the Stewart campaign had a much un-noticed flub of its own, distributing their own pre-printed fliers touting her endorsement. Conventions are fickle things, and smart and well-prepared candidates try to anticipate every variable and capitalize on it. Word gets around quick, bad word gets around quicker, and people act on bum scoop even quicker still.
Ben Tribbett, the liberal blogger at NotLarrySabato, posited that this whole thing was a ruse engineered by Corey himself — privately getting the word to Snyder’s camp he had endorsed, then publicly embarrassing Pete by endorsing Jackson on the floor.
This makes less sense than any theory. Sources inside the Stewart campaign confirmed to me that Stewart had every intention of staying neutral in the final ballot. And why wouldn’t he? Why would you endorse anyone when the margin of lead is nearly 20%? It would make no sense to endorse Snyder at that deficit, and it would make absolutely no sense to risk your reputation for future office with a highly complicated — and easily traceable — scheme. And it doesn’t explain the Obenshain endorsement either. Would he believe that Obenshain’s camp did the exact same thing to embarrass Pete Snyder? Not likely.
No, I don’t buy that it was deliberate — either on Stewart’s or Snyder’s side. But in the end, it was Snyder’s camp that lost its discipline, and helped to vindicate the political axiom, “whoever messes up the least wins,” and helps us to remind ourselves to be skeptical of all-things political. Nevertheless, I don’t think we’ve seen the last success of Corey Stewart or Pete Snyder, and I wish them the best in their convention recovery, and their future endeavors.