In the weeks since the Virginia gubernatorial race, many political observers have offered their assessments of what lessons conservative candidates could learn from our successful campaign.
Such analysis was to be expected. Virginia’s regional diversity and demographic makeup render the state a fair stand-in for the nation at large. And our unique off-year races always create disproportionate focus on Virginia and New Jersey.
I believe my successful campaign for governor demonstrated that conservatives can win tough elections in competitive states when we stay true to our principles, while offering specific solutions to the quality-of-life problems that most concern people. It was a victory for what I call “results-oriented conservatism.”
From the beginning of the campaign, we told voters that the tough employment market and economic climate they faced meant that job creation and economic opportunities were the top priorities. We said that traffic congestion must be addressed, and we presented new options to pay for roads. Voters worried about falling incomes, growing government debt, and more federal mandates were encouraged to support our ideas of fiscal conservation.
Citizens are tired of rhetoric and partisanship, and want to see cooperation and results. It’s not enough for conservatives to simply oppose a bad program or object to an ill-conceived project. Leaders must provide positive solutions, because citizens rightly demand action to reaction.
During the campaign we rolled out 23 different comprehensive policy proposals. I took it as a compliment when the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star opined that we had “devised a detailed plan for everything short of setting out your azaleas and flossing.” Each proposal was rooted in conservative principles of limited government, personal responsibility, free markets, and equality of opportunity.
We explained how these detailed plans, when implemented, would benefit Virginia families and businesses.
We spoke frankly about the need to keep taxation and regulation to a minimum so that families keep more and employers can create more jobs.
Our advocacy for expanding charter schools was rooted in providing parents more positive options for the education of their children. We called for performance pay to help keep great teachers in our schools. And we put forth a proposal to put more education dollars in the classroom where students learn, and put less in administration.
Americans want to move toward energy independence, and we strongly supported offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, an expansion of nuclear power, and cost-effective alternative energy technologies like wind and biomass.
Virginia students and parents are struggling with the rapidly increasing cost of higher education at a time when the acquisition of a degree means more than ever. We spoke to that issue with our innovative plans to make college more affordable and accessible to help people get the opportunities they need to compete in the global economy.
We laid out a road map to get transportation projects built, without a tax increase, through utilizing new funding ideas because congestion has a sustained negative impact on the quality of life of Virginians.
As we put forward these common-sense proposals focusing on problem solving and getting results, it was critical to stay true to our conservative values. We pledged to protect life, the Second Amendment and property rights. We should never shy away from the bedrock values that unite us as conservatives.
The Republican Party must be both principled and practical. By implementing “results-oriented conservatism,” putting our conservative principles to work helping Virginians with their everyday concerns, we won a convincing victory in a swing state. The lessons we learned from our campaign offer guidance for Republicans to be the party of positive ideas, results — and victories.
• Robert F. McDonnell is governor of Virginia.