If a national election were held in a test kitchen, it would resemble Tuesday’s Virginia gubernatorial election.
The race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli is a rich stew of national personalities and issues, consumed by Virginia voters with “tastes” similar to voter groups nationwide. That’s why the media will see this off-year election as a bellwether for voting trends nationwide.
Speaking as a conservative Republican, I believe the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli campaign has been a recipe for disaster cooked up with the same ingredients that flavor the GOP’s toxic national brand. And that’s the reason why, at this writing, McAuliffe, with his well-earned reputation as a crony-capitalist, is leading Virginia’s attorney general by 6.7 percent and is likely to be the state’s next governor.
This Virginia “test-kitchen race” offers a taste of America’s political future that should be of concern to voters across the remaining 49 states for the following reasons.
Women are McAuliffe’s key to victory. According to a recent Washington Post poll, there is not just a gender gap but a gender canyon, with McAuliffe trumping Cuccinelli 58 to 34 percent with women voters.
Cuccinelli is opposed to abortion and holds traditional views on gay marriage and contraception. The McAuliffe campaign has successfully labeled him as an extremist.
As proof, over the weekend, I asked a girlfriend who lives in voter-rich Fairfax County who she is supporting on Tuesday. Due to my friend’s demographic characteristics, I consider her a one-person focus group and, as in past elections, her vote is an accurate predictor of the outcome. Here is her reply to my email:
I already voted since I am working as an election officer on Tuesday. I voted McAuliffe because I think Cuccinelli is too extreme especially on women’s issues. I really think he is a nut!
For the record, with male voters, the same Washington Post poll has the two virtually tied: Cuccinelli at 45 percent, McAuliffe at 44 percent.
National lesson: If the GOP keeps nominating socially conservative candidates who repel women, expect the Republican Party to lose in traditional blue and “purple” swing states. Furthermore, Cuccinelli won the nomination at the Virginia GOP convention controlled by the more conservative wing of the party. If there had been a primary election, Cuccinelli might have lost to Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who was considered the more moderate candidate.
The Clintons were practically on the ballot. Politically speaking, McAuliffe’s last name might as well be Clinton, considering he’s been their close political operative and money-man for decades. From the beginning of McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign, Bill Clinton has been a cash vacuum for his old friend statewide and nationally. Hillary, however, was far more cautious. She only publicly joined the campaign in mid-October at a “Women for Terry” event and only after it was clear McAuliffe was cruising to victory.
National Lesson: The Clintons’ star power in Virginia has far outshined every Republican VIP brought in to stump for Cuccinelli. Early on, McAuliffe’s race for governor was billed—by him—as a Hillary 2016 staff and money incubator. Nationally, his victory will likely be viewed as a Hillary 2016 proxy election, with Virginia’s 13 electoral votes practically in the bag.
Hispanic growth is McAuliffe’s advantage. Virginia’s Hispanic population is 630,000, having increased by 92 percent since 2000. Of that number, 214,000 are registered to vote, and two-thirds identify as Democrats.
The McAuliffe campaign has worked nonstop to engage and mobilize this important voting bloc. Therefore, expect “Latinos con Terry” to help push McAuliffe, who has recently become a champion of immigration reform, across the finish line. In contrast, Cuccinelli has been a vocal opponent of immigration reform.
National lesson. In 2012, President Obama won 64 percent of Virginia’s Hispanic vote, compared with 71 percent nationally. Will McAuliffe top him? If so, it would be a clear signal that the growing Hispanic vote is becoming a lost GOP voter bloc similar to African-Americans. The GOP will cease to be a national party if Hispanics become loyal Democrats by margins as wide as 60 or 70 percent.
Obamacare vs. Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli was the first state attorney general to sue the federal government over Obamacare. This was considered a huge booster issue for his candidacy. So, as the disastrous rollout continues and the full effects of Obamacare are becoming known, one would assume the issue would work to strengthen Cuccinelli over the pro-Obamacare McAuliffe. But in Virginia, there is a serious problem with this thinking.
National Lesson: Remember what my friend wrote in her email: I voted McAuliffe because I think Cuccinelli is too extreme especially on women’s issues. I really think he is a nut! It looks like “nut” has grown into a larger issue than the Obamacare disaster.
In “right to work” Virginia, a McAuliffe win is a union welcome mat. Virginia, like much of the South, is a “right to work” state, meaning you can work at a unionized company without paying the union dues. McAuliffe has long been a supporter of unions, and $2.5 million of union money has filled McAuliffe’s campaign coffers.
National Lesson: At the AFL-CIO convention in September, a resolution was adopted to develop a “Southern Strategy.” This is a “long term commitment to organize the South” with the goal of expanding union membership and political influence.
Watch as Gov. McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, tries to assist Big Labor, a longtime and loyal Democratic interest group, to gain a foothold in Virginia and perhaps even try to overturn “right to work” laws. Stronger unions also mean more organizing and boots on the ground during elections and more money funneled to Virginia Democratic candidates.
McAuliffe’s $35 million to Cuccinelli’s $18 million. From the beginning, McAuliffe has used the Hillary 2016 connection to help entice big donors. This past April, Politico reported:
In fact, McAuliffe and some of his top allies have suggested to big donors and consultants that supporting his campaign is a way to get in on the ground floor of Hillary 2016, several donors and operatives told POLITICO.
National Lesson: McAuliffe has been the financier for all the Clinton presidential campaigns. Now the strong fundraising in his own Virginia race can be viewed as a harbinger of Hillary’s strength for 2016. On October 30 in Beverly Hills, Hillary hosted a $15,000-per-person fundraising event for McAuliffe. But since he is already flush with cash, was it just an excuse for her to get in front of Hollywood heavy-weight donors who are itching to write her large and early checks for 2016?
The GOP will not learn anything from Cuccinelli’s defeat. Finally, even though Cuccinelli’s defeat by McAuliffe illustrates a “test kitchen” failure of a conservative candidate in a purple swing state, the Virginia results will be rationalized, marginalized, and ignored. Watch for conservative Republicans to point to Cuccinelli’s defeat as a messaging and communication problem rather than a candidate problem. That kind of denial, more than anything else, is the reason why the Republican Party could be in serious trouble for the elections of 2014 and 2016.
But what about Gov. Chris Christie’s victory in New Jersey, you ask? Good news he won. Bad news he won. That is because the same conservative forces that nominated Cuccinelli in a convention are the same forces that will work to deny Christie the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, no matter how popular he becomes. Caution: big trouble ahead for the GOP.