The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Frustrated Girlfriend Theory of Political Decision Making


A few weeks ago, I correctly predicted that Sen. Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, would not run for reelection. While I pointed to a couple of different pieces of evidence — low fund-raising, Webb’s initial goals when running for office, his previous surprise departures from high-level positions — a key factor is what I’ll call the Frustrated Girlfriend Theory of Political Decision Making.

How many of you know, or have known, a woman who wondered, for a long stretch of time, whether her boyfriend would propose marriage? Looks like a lot of you. The frustrated girlfriends tend to not recognize a pattern in my years of study of human behavior: Men who want to propose tend to tip their hand by actually proposing.*

Sure, there are exceptions, as when the guy is saving up for a ring or other factors. But generally, if a man wants to do something, he does it. He doesn’t spend an enormous amount of time waiting around for the precise right moment to do it. You can chalk it up to impatience, testosterone, or evolutionary psychology; the romantic in me will cite Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

I suspect that when you realize you want to spend the next years of your life duking it out in the political arena, you want to jump into the political arena as soon as possible.

As 2011 began, Webb hadn’t yet announced a decision that is almost pro forma for first-term senators, that he was going to run for reelection. The lack of an announcement suggested Webb wasn’t itching to jump back onto the campaign trail, and those who are looking for reasons to not run tend to find them. Now we see another figure in Virginia politics, Tim Kaine, still publicly undecided on a decision that many seem to think is a foregone conclusion . . .

DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan tells CNN that there’s been no change in the timetable for the former Virginia governor to decide if he’ll make a Senate bid. Earlier this month, after Democratic Sen. Jim Webb announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election next year, the DNC said that Kaine would decide by early March.

Kaine spoke by phone with President Barack Obama last week about a potential Senate bid in Virginia. And the President told television station WWBT in Richmond, Virginia that he thinks Kaine “would be a great senator from Virginia if he chose to do that.”

The conventional wisdom is that the White House is pressuring Kaine to run to keep the seat in party hands, but a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN that the White House is giving Kaine space on this decision and that there’s “no arm twisting at any level.”

Obama’s made his sales pitch, and Kaine is still undecided. I think we can conclude that if he really wanted to run, he would have announced by now.

* I suppose the genders could be reversed, but I haven’t personally encountered many examples of that.

Tags: Jim Webb , Tim Kaine


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