Republicans Move Cash Down-Ballot to Deny Dems the Virginia Sweep

With Cuccinelli failing, Mark What’s-His-Name could be the GOP’s saving grace in this swing state.

National Journal
Beth Reinhard
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Beth Reinhard
Oct. 21, 2013, 9:11 a.m.

As the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates for gov­ernor and lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor of Vir­gin­ia fizzle in the polls, the GOP is turn­ing to its equally con­ser­vat­ive but little-known nom­in­ee for at­tor­ney gen­er­al as the last line of de­fense against a com­plete washout in the Nov. 5 elec­tion.

The Re­pub­lic­an State Lead­er­ship Com­mit­tee, which builds farm teams for gubernat­ori­al and fed­er­al races by help­ing elect down-bal­lot can­did­ates for state of­fice, has stroked four big checks — for a total $1.35 mil­lion — to Mark Oben­shain just this month.

Un­like his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans on the tick­et, Oben­shain is run­ning even and pos­sible ahead in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions and pub­lic opin­ion against his Demo­crat­ic rival, Mark Her­ring.

“This Oben­shain thing is very real in Vir­gin­ia and as the gov­ernor’s race be­comes less of a race, the at­tor­ney gen­er­al’s race seems to be the talk,” said Chris Jankowski, pres­id­ent of the RSLC. “Donors are start­ing to see that Oben­shain can get across the line with some more sup­port, and we’re ob­vi­ously the biggest in­vestor.”

A string of polls show­ing Demo­crat Terry McAul­iffe beat­ing Re­pub­lic­an Ken Cuc­cinelli by sev­en to 10 per­cent­age points in the gov­ernor’s race is for­cing Re­pub­lic­ans to con­tem­plate los­ing the lock on state gov­ern­ment they hold for only the second time since the Civil War. Re­pub­lic­ans cur­rently con­trol all of the statewide of­fices out­side the two Sen­ate seats — gov­ernor, lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor, and at­tor­ney gen­er­al — and both the House of Del­eg­ates and the Sen­ate. That’s a point of pride and a prac­tic­al ad­vant­age for the Re­pub­lic­an Party in a ma­jor battle­ground state, though Demo­crat Barack Obama car­ried Vir­gin­ia in the last two pres­id­en­tial elec­tions.

“It’s a true swing state and it’s al­ways a struggle to main­tain Re­pub­lic­an con­trol in Vir­gin­ia,” said Jankowski, who lives in Rich­mond. “The counties you need to win in Vir­gin­ia look a lot like the counties you need to win in Flor­ida, Ohio, and Col­or­ado.”

Oben­shain’s re­cord as a state sen­at­or since 2003 is out of step with such swing counties of mod­er­ate, sub­urb­an voters, but he’s be­ne­fit­ing from the lower pro­file typ­ic­al of can­did­ates who aren’t at the top of the tick­et.

The Har­ris­on­burg law­yer pro­posed a bill that would have re­quired wo­men to re­port mis­car­riages to the po­lice or face a mis­de­mean­or charge, for ex­ample, though he with­drew the bill. With Cuc­cinelli, he co-sponsored le­gis­la­tion that de­clared life be­gins at fer­til­iz­a­tion, which crit­ics said out­lawed all abor­tions and could have lim­ited ac­cess to birth con­trol. Oben­shain’s spokes­man, Paul Lo­gan, said he sup­ports an ex­cep­tion to save the life of the moth­er but he did not out­line ex­cep­tions for rape or in­cest.

Oben­shain also op­posed rais­ing taxes to up­grade the state’s trans­port­a­tion sys­tem and pro­tect­ing gay and les­bi­an state work­ers from dis­crim­in­a­tion.

But while McAul­iffe has out­gunned Cuc­cinelli on tele­vi­sion with at­tack ads por­tray­ing him as an ex­trem­ist, Oben­shain’s op­pon­ent has struggled to get a sim­il­ar mes­sage out. In a re­cent Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity sur­vey, 46 per­cent of likely voters said Cuc­cinelli is too con­ser­vat­ive; 71 per­cent said they did not know enough about Oben­shain to form an opin­ion.

“As voters start to tune in­to these down-bal­lot races, they will see that Oben­shain would be a con­tinu­ation of Cuc­cinelli,” said Kev­in O’Holler­an, Her­ring’s cam­paign man­ager. “The whole Re­pub­lic­an tick­et is totally out­side the main­stream.”

If Oben­shain wins the at­tor­ney gen­er­al race, he would be well-po­si­tioned to run for gov­ernor in 2017. His fath­er, Dick Oben­shain, served as chair­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Vir­gin­ia and a co-chair­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee in the mid-1970s. He died in a plane crash while run­ning for the U.S. Sen­ate in 1978. Oben­shain’s moth­er, Helen, went on to serve as Vir­gin­ia’s com­mit­tee­wo­man to the RNC. “The son’s roots are in­deed strong and firm,” said Sunday’s en­dorse­ment by The Rich­mond Times Dis­patch,which took the un­usu­al step of with­hold­ing an en­dorse­ment in the gov­ernor’s race.

“We have been reach­ing out to Re­pub­lic­ans, Demo­crats and in­de­pend­ents, and we think this is a race we can win,” said Lo­gan of the Oben­shain cam­paign. “Our pos­it­ive mes­sage is al­low­ing us to break through.”

The last time Demo­crats swept the statewide of­fices in Rich­mond was 1989. Split-tick­et vic­tor­ies — in which one party wins the gov­ernor’s race and an­oth­er wins the at­tor­ney gen­er­al post — are more com­mon. Both of the last Demo­crat­ic gov­ernors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, served with Re­pub­lic­an at­tor­neys gen­er­al.

Two weeks be­fore the elec­tion, the polls sug­gest the at­tor­ney gen­er­al’s con­test is the only horser­ace on the bal­lot. Oben­shain re­ceived sup­port from 46 per­cent of likely voters, com­pared to Her­ring with 45 per­cent, in the latest sur­vey by Chris­toph­er New­port Uni­versity’s Wason Cen­ter for Pub­lic Policy. Oben­shain’s num­bers have im­proved by 4 per­cent since earli­er this month, while Cuc­cinelli and E.W. Jack­son were lag­ging be­hind their Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ents by 7 and 12 points, re­spect­ively.

“The At­tor­ney Gen­er­al’s race could very well be the one we wait up late for on Nov. 5,” said Quentin Kidd, dir­ect­or of the cen­ter, in a state­ment an­noun­cing the polling res­ults.

The Roan­oke Col­lege poll found a sim­il­ar state of play. Oben­shain was three points ahead of Her­ring, stat­ist­ic­ally ty­ing the race, while Cuc­cinelli was six points be­hind and Jack­son was four points be­hind the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ees.

Oben­shain also ap­pears to be win­ning the money race, thanks to the in­flux of money from the na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an group. Both he and Her­ring had col­lec­ted about $2.4 mil­lion as of the end of Septem­ber — be­fore the $1.3 mil­lion from the RSLC poured in.

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