Terry McAuliffe’s Summer Stunner

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, center, walks to a backstage meeting with the news media following his participation in the Battleground Forum at George Mason University in Manassas, Va., Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. 
AP
Charlie Cook
Sept. 5, 2013, 4:05 p.m.

In some odd years, gubernat­ori­al races and spe­cial con­gres­sion­al elec­tions of­fer a fore­shad­ow­ing, or at least a hint, of what might hap­pen in the next year’s na­tion­al elec­tions. In oth­er odd years, no pat­tern emerges. We nev­er know which un­til after the na­tion­al elec­tions oc­cur, mak­ing the off-year elec­tions a less-than-help­ful in­dic­at­or.

This year, the out­come of New Jer­sey’s gubernat­ori­al elec­tion on Nov. 5 is un­likely to tell us any­thing use­ful about the 2014 midterms. Re­pub­lic­an Chris Christie looks al­most cer­tain to roll up a big reelec­tion vic­tory. Much will be read in­to the res­ults, giv­en the state’s heavy Demo­crat­ic tilt. Christie’s vic­tory, though, won’t fore­tell the fu­ture. It will simply re­flect that he is ex­ceed­ingly for­mid­able and has cracked the code of how a Re­pub­lic­an wins in a Demo­crat­ic state, much the way former New Jer­sey GOP Govs. Tom Kean and Christie Whit­man did be­fore him.

The bet­ter test will be the gubernat­ori­al race in Vir­gin­ia between Re­pub­lic­an state At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Cuc­cinelli and busi­ness ex­ec­ut­ive Terry McAul­iffe, a former chair­man of the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee. His­tor­ic­ally, Vir­gin­ia has been a red, con­ser­vat­ive state; after all, Rich­mond was the cap­it­al of the Con­fed­er­acy. In re­cent years, though, Vir­gin­ia has be­come more of a Mid-At­lantic state, in part be­cause of an in­flux of non-South­ern­ers, es­pe­cially to the heav­ily pop­u­lated North­ern Vir­gin­ia and Tide­wa­ter re­gions. That is why Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried the Old Domin­ion twice, al­beit nar­rowly. Vir­gin­ia is now a purple, swing state.

Neither ma­jor-party nom­in­ee has any spe­cial claim on its grow­ing num­bers of mod­er­ate, in­de­pend­ent, and swing voters. That dy­nam­ic, plus the fact that voter turnout plum­mets in non-pres­id­en­tial elec­tions, is ex­actly why the race is such a fair fight.

Cuc­cinelli entered the con­test with a well-earned repu­ta­tion as a hard-char­ging, take-no-pris­on­ers con­ser­vat­ive, more re­flect­ive of the Old Dixie Vir­gin­ia than the new Mid-At­lantic state. He has a pas­sion­ate fol­low­ing among many con­ser­vat­ives, al­though quite a few mem­bers of the GOP es­tab­lish­ment are un­com­fort­able with his style and have been skep­tic­al about his abil­ity to win a gen­er­al elec­tion.

On the oth­er side, many doc­trin­aire lib­er­als don’t trust McAul­iffe. Some of the sus­pi­cion goes back to bad blood from the 2008 pres­id­en­tial race when he was foursquare in the camp of close friends Bill and Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, while many of his crit­ics were on Barack Obama’s team. McAul­iffe rep­res­en­ted the old-style es­tab­lish­ment, while Obama and lib­er­als were more as­so­ci­ated with the Left’s new polit­ics. Plus, many lib­er­als tend to be skep­tic­al of busi­nesspeople gen­er­ally, and McAul­iffe’s wheel­er-deal­er repu­ta­tion puts off many such voters. All of this means the nom­in­ee is reas­on­ably strong among Demo­crats gen­er­ally but less so with the more ideo­lo­gic­al wing of the party — roughly the re­verse of Cuc­cinelli’s situ­ation on the GOP side.

From Janu­ary through the end of May, 13 pub­lic polls were re­leased: McAul­iffe held nar­row leads in sev­en and Cuc­cinelli in five; one poll had them tied. Five of the polls re­flec­ted in­con­sequen­tial leads of just 1 or 2 per­cent­age points. The widest mar­gin for either can­did­ate in this baker’s dozen was a Cuc­cinelli lead of 8 points. It’s fair to say that after Me­mori­al Day, the race looked pretty much like a jump ball.

In many ways, McAul­iffe had about as bad a sum­mer as a can­did­ate can have. A series of neg­at­ive stor­ies about his busi­ness af­fairs, par­tic­u­larly in­volving GreenTech Auto­mot­ive and the Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion’s in­vest­ig­a­tion of the com­pany, put him on the de­fens­ive and off-mes­sage for weeks. Mean­while, Cuc­cinelli had to dis­tance him­self from Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell, who, along with his wife, is un­der fed­er­al in­vest­ig­a­tion for tak­ing gifts from a large donor. The at­tor­ney gen­er­al has been brushed by the scan­dal, but he has been cleared of any wrong­do­ing.

From the tone of the sum­mer’s news cov­er­age, one might guess that Cuc­cinelli would hold a small lead in the polls. Al­though the Re­pub­lic­an was the sub­ject of quite a few un­flat­ter­ing stor­ies, the pre­pon­der­ance of the bad press seemed aimed at McAul­iffe. The pub­lic polling, however, shows something dif­fer­ent. McAul­iffe has a lead in six of sev­en re­cent pub­lic sur­veys, with mar­gins ran­ging from 3 to 10 points.

It’s hard to fig­ure what’s go­ing on, be­cause McAul­iffe cer­tainly didn’t “win the sum­mer.” Per­haps his nar­row ad­vant­age comes from a com­bin­a­tion of factors. It is pos­sible that Mc­Don­nell’s prob­lems are rub­bing off on Cuc­cinelli and fuel­ing a time-for-a-change sen­ti­ment. An­oth­er reas­on could be that Cuc­cinelli’s strong ideo­logy is be­com­ing more prob­lem­at­ic among voters, even as the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s na­tion­al neg­at­ives weigh him down. A third factor could be E.W. Jack­son, the GOP’s very con­ser­vat­ive and of­ten-con­tro­ver­sial nom­in­ee for lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor. Jack­son proved to be a dis­trac­tion to Cuc­cinelli’s ef­forts over the sum­mer to ease sub­urb­an­ites’ dis­com­fort with him. The fi­nal factor could be money. McAul­iffe and his al­lies have out­spent Cuc­cinelli and his back­ers by a fairly sig­ni­fic­ant amount.

Still, this race seems far from over. Most Vir­gin­ia voters aren’t yet fo­cused on the con­test, which isn’t un­usu­al at this point in the cycle. Today, it’s prob­ably safer to call it something close to a 50-50 race. Based on sum­mer polling, you could per­haps put a tiny fin­ger on the scale for McAul­iffe, but not enough to war­rant lay­ing a con­fid­ent bet.

Whichever party is vic­tori­ous in Novem­ber is cer­tain to crow that the res­ult is of great na­tion­al im­port. Par­tis­ans will ar­gue that Vir­gin­ia is a swing state that is rep­res­ent­at­ive of the coun­try. But this con­test has enough weird angles — not the least of which is a gov­ernor in pro­sec­utors’ crosshairs — that such claims might well be an over­reach. 

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4425) }}

What We're Following See More »
LEGACY PLAY
Sanders and Clinton Spar Over … President Obama
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

THE 1%
Sanders’s Appeals to Minorities Still Filtered Through Wall Street Talk
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”

DIRECT APPEAL TO MINORITIES, WOMEN
Clinton Already Pivoting Her Messaging
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.

THE QUESTION
How Many Jobs Would Be Lost Under Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer System?
13 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 11 million, according to Manhattan Institute fellow Yevgeniy Feyman, writing in RealClearPolicy.

Source:
WEEKEND DATA DUMP
State to Release 550 More Clinton Emails on Saturday
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.

Source:
×