Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ken Cuccinelli

Why Virginia Matters (Besides the Obvious)

Republicans looking for a silver lining in last week’s Virginia elections got some bad news today: it looks like the Democratic candidate for attorney general, Mark Herring, will eke out a victory by less than 200 votes, enabling the Democrats to sweep Election Day’s major contests in that state. The current margin of victory allows the Republican candidate, Mark Obenshain, to request a recount, which the state will pay for since the margin is less than one half of one percent, according to Time.

Though obviously not as significant as the governor’s race, the attorney general gets a head start on running for governor, since Virginia governors are limited to one term. This is especially true for an attorney general when his party does not also hold the governorship of the state, since it gives him an advantage in wrangling for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the following election. The office can also offer an attorney general a way to gain national name recognition and experience, as Ken Cuccinelli did with his role in the states’ legal charge against ObamaCare.

So it would have been a consolation prize worth having for Republicans in Virginia. Additionally, the GOP is confronting what Reid Wilson calls a “changed electorate” that enabled Terry McAuliffe to win. McAuliffe can only serve one term, so Virginians just have to make sure he doesn’t do anything crazy in that time, like sell the state at a “Clinton 2016” fundraiser or some such. But after McAuliffe leaves office, Republicans will still have to face this “changed electorate,” and do so with the momentum pulling the state into the Democrats’ column. And that changed electorate is in part about turnout–an area the Democrats excelled in during President Obama’s reelection and which the Romney campaign flubbed badly. Wilson explains:

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Republicans looking for a silver lining in last week’s Virginia elections got some bad news today: it looks like the Democratic candidate for attorney general, Mark Herring, will eke out a victory by less than 200 votes, enabling the Democrats to sweep Election Day’s major contests in that state. The current margin of victory allows the Republican candidate, Mark Obenshain, to request a recount, which the state will pay for since the margin is less than one half of one percent, according to Time.

Though obviously not as significant as the governor’s race, the attorney general gets a head start on running for governor, since Virginia governors are limited to one term. This is especially true for an attorney general when his party does not also hold the governorship of the state, since it gives him an advantage in wrangling for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the following election. The office can also offer an attorney general a way to gain national name recognition and experience, as Ken Cuccinelli did with his role in the states’ legal charge against ObamaCare.

So it would have been a consolation prize worth having for Republicans in Virginia. Additionally, the GOP is confronting what Reid Wilson calls a “changed electorate” that enabled Terry McAuliffe to win. McAuliffe can only serve one term, so Virginians just have to make sure he doesn’t do anything crazy in that time, like sell the state at a “Clinton 2016” fundraiser or some such. But after McAuliffe leaves office, Republicans will still have to face this “changed electorate,” and do so with the momentum pulling the state into the Democrats’ column. And that changed electorate is in part about turnout–an area the Democrats excelled in during President Obama’s reelection and which the Romney campaign flubbed badly. Wilson explains:

The McAuliffe campaign had to invest heavily in digital media, Mook said, because many of the voters most likely to back the Democrat were part of groups that vote at lower rates — particularly younger voters and minorities. …

The gamble on turning out McAuliffe-friendly voters paid off: Exit polls showed the 2013 electorate was 72 percent white and 20 percent African American. Those two groups made up 78 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in 2009. Cuccinelli won white voters by a 56 percent to 36 percent margin, while McAuliffe won among blacks with 90 percent of the vote.

Younger voters, between the ages of 18 and 29, made up 13 percent of the electorate, three points higher than in 2009. Those voters gave McAuliffe a 45 percent to 40 percent edge; in 2009, younger voters chose Republican McDonnell by a 10-point margin.

So Virginia matters for all the obvious reasons: it used to be a red state; it may be a leading indicator of Republican struggles in swing states; it’s evidence the Democrats still have a superior ground game; etc. But it also matters for another reason, one that is both quantifiable and symbolic: the northern Virginia suburbs.

First, the quantifiable: as the Washington Post reports, population increases in the northern Virginia, blue-leaning counties hurt the Cuccinelli campaign in ways that portend trouble ahead for the Republicans. In three of those counties, for example, the Post explains that McAuliffe either matched, slightly exceeded, or slightly underperformed the voting percentages accrued there by Tim Kaine, the last Democrat to win the governorship eight years ago. Yet basically matching Kaine’s percentages in Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun counties still gave McAuliffe an extra 6,400, 7,000, and 300 or so votes respectively.

Northern Virginia is home to a sizable population of federal workers and where, according to the Hill, nearly one-third of the economy depends on the federal government. According to some estimates, there are 65,000 federal employees living in northern Virginia and 110,000 federal workers who work there. So the politics of Virginia are clearly influenced by the growth of government and people dependent on it.

And that gets to the symbolic aspect of this. The trend is understandable, but it is also an inversion of the benefits of the famous deal Thomas Jefferson and James Madison struck with Alexander Hamilton to locate the capital on the Potomac in return for the federal assumption of state debts (and a favorable accounting of such as far as Virginia was concerned). Their intentions, of course, are difficult to know. But the practical effect of locating the capital on the Potomac was to inaugurate a capital that was modest and humble, not imposing and imperialistic. As Joseph J. Ellis writes in Founding Brothers, in its early years it would easily assuage anyone’s concern about the powers of the new federal government: “It symbolized the victory of diffusion over consolidation.”

Skeptics of the federal government and the Hamilton deal wanted Madison and Jefferson to oppose it on the grounds that the debt assumption was akin to conquest by a foreign power–this new federal Leviathan, from which the states could be forgiven for contemplating secession. Ellis continues:

Jefferson and Madison claimed to share their apprehensions and their political principles, but not their secessionist impulses. Their strategy was different. They would not abandon the government, but capture it. Like the new capital, it would become an extension of Virginia, or at least the Virginia vision of what the American Revolution meant and the American republic was therefore meant to be.

The trend that carried McAuliffe to victory, and threatens to concretize in Virginia, is the opposite effect. It is the looming capture of Virginia by the federal government and the capital, and making Virginia an extension of the vision of the American republic according to the federal bureaucrat. Jefferson soon regretted the deal and his role in it, and nothing since then would likely change his mind.

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Candidates, Not Process, Is the Key for GOP

A year ago, their defeat in the presidential election set off an understandable bout of introspection in many Republicans. This week’s defeat of GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race has set off another round of arguments about how the party can avoid the same fate in the future. However, some of the advice Republicans are getting is not likely to help them much. In particular, the recriminations about Cuccinelli’s campaign and the way he won his party’s nomination ignore the real problems of the GOP both in Virginia and elsewhere. One example of this is the New York Times’s front-page story today titled “GOP Weighs Limiting Clout of Right Wing.” The conceit of the story is that Cuccinelli’s winning the Republican nod for governor was primarily due to the party’s decision to choose its candidate via a convention rather than an open primary. Since conventions are, by definition, less representative of the general public, that allows “fringe” candidates (i.e. Tea Partiers) to emerge. Establishment figures that have been tearing down Cuccinelli all year are thus cited to blame all the GOP’s woes on such “fringe” characters and their supporters dragging it down to defeat.

To say that this is an oversimplification of the matter is an understatement. As I’ve written previously, Cuccinelli’s big problem wasn’t that he was an extremist. Nor was he foisted on an unwilling Republican party by a tiny band of outliers. If Republicans are to fix what is wrong with their party, it will not be by procedural tricks to ensure that Tea Partiers don’t get nominated. Rather, it will be because they recruit and run better candidates and more professional campaigns on issues that resonate with voters. Everything else is inside baseball and more about factional score settling than advancing the cause of conservatism.

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A year ago, their defeat in the presidential election set off an understandable bout of introspection in many Republicans. This week’s defeat of GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race has set off another round of arguments about how the party can avoid the same fate in the future. However, some of the advice Republicans are getting is not likely to help them much. In particular, the recriminations about Cuccinelli’s campaign and the way he won his party’s nomination ignore the real problems of the GOP both in Virginia and elsewhere. One example of this is the New York Times’s front-page story today titled “GOP Weighs Limiting Clout of Right Wing.” The conceit of the story is that Cuccinelli’s winning the Republican nod for governor was primarily due to the party’s decision to choose its candidate via a convention rather than an open primary. Since conventions are, by definition, less representative of the general public, that allows “fringe” candidates (i.e. Tea Partiers) to emerge. Establishment figures that have been tearing down Cuccinelli all year are thus cited to blame all the GOP’s woes on such “fringe” characters and their supporters dragging it down to defeat.

To say that this is an oversimplification of the matter is an understatement. As I’ve written previously, Cuccinelli’s big problem wasn’t that he was an extremist. Nor was he foisted on an unwilling Republican party by a tiny band of outliers. If Republicans are to fix what is wrong with their party, it will not be by procedural tricks to ensure that Tea Partiers don’t get nominated. Rather, it will be because they recruit and run better candidates and more professional campaigns on issues that resonate with voters. Everything else is inside baseball and more about factional score settling than advancing the cause of conservatism.

Let’s specify that those who complain about state parties relying on conventions rather than primaries are absolutely right. The idea of reviving the proverbial smoke-filled rooms where party bosses dickered and chose candidates without bothering to gain the consent of the rank and file, let alone the voters, is absurd. It is, in general, a way for small unrepresentative groups—such as Ron Paul’s libertarian foot soldiers—to gain control of party structures that they could not obtain if they were forced to win primaries.

However, the state convention method used to pick Cuccinelli is not to blame for the ultimate Democratic victory. There’s every reason to believe the state attorney general would have beaten Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling in a Republican primary, just as he did in the convention. The problem was that Bolling and his backers feared that he would lose a GOP primary so they sought to change the rules to turn such an election into an open vote in which independents and Democrats would also have a say in the Republican candidate rather than just members of the party. In response, Cuccinelli’s people reversed the decision and sought a convention that in addition to nominating him also gave him a genuine extremist as a running mate in the form of Minister E. W. Jackson, who did hurt the Republican campaign.

But the focus on process here is beside the point. As I wrote Tuesday night, had Cuccinelli’s Tea Party allies in Congress not shut down the government on October 1, that may have allowed the country more time to focus on the ObamaCare rollout disaster, a factor that might have allowed him to do better. But, Cuccinelli’s main problem in Virginia was the same faced by the more moderate Mitt Romney: the changing demographics in a state that has shifted from red to purple, if not blue, in the last generation.

Moreover, the narrative that the Tea Party is destroying the Republicans is a flimsy structure by which to explain everything that happens throughout the country. Not all Tea Partiers are bad electoral bets. In Utah, where Mike Lee upset incumbent Republican Bob Bennett in a 2012 state convention, that move had no impact on the GOP’s ability to hold a safe seat in a deep-red state. The same is true of Ted Cruz’s Texas primary victory in 2012 over a slightly less conservative Republican. The most flagrant instances where terrible Tea Party candidates have cost the GOP Senate seats—Sharon Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware—happened when both won primaries over more electable Republicans.

Instead of grousing about conventions, Republicans need to focus on recruiting able people to run for office in the future. What Republicans need is the same thing that Democrats want: good candidates. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and political hues. Smart, able people will always be able to beat fringe figures if properly vetted and backed with money and organization. Any diversion from that simple truth will only lead the Republicans back to the same circular firing squad that they seem to trot out every time they lose an election. 

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The Shutdown and the VA Governor’s Race

Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

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Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

As this story reports:

As Obamacare was about to roll out to the public on Oct. 1, Cuccinelli stepped up criticism of the new system. But the government shutdown started that same day, forcing the candidate to shift gears and pronounce his support of federal workers, even as he continued to lead followers in rousing declamations of the federal government as “the biggest opponent of them all.”

“We were debating the shutdown and not the Obamacare fight,” [Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli’s chief campaign strategist], said.

After the election Mr. LaCivita said, “I can’t help but ask myself, what would have been the result had he had five weeks of this discussion instead of just 2½?”

A good question.

As a Virginian who proudly voted for Cuccinelli, here’s the post-election thought I have: If Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and those who supported their efforts, hadn’t undertaken their doomed-from-the-start gambit, Mr. Cuccinelli would have done better. Whether Cuccinelli would have won if the government shutdown had never taken place is impossible to know, and in retrospect the national party could certainly have done more to help Cuccinelli. But this much is clear: advocates of the shutdown ended up temporarily helping rather than hurting ObamaCare. And in the process they lent a big assist to Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe.

Remind me again why the shutdown was such a great idea.

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The Revenge of Politics

Searching for an overarching cause of the result in last night’s Virginia gubernatorial election is going to consist mostly of Democrats and Republicans talking past each other. That’s because, to some degree, they are both right. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout was not enough to doom Terry McAuliffe, but neither was his victory an affirmation that ObamaCare poses no real political risk to Democrats. Likewise, it seems the government shutdown hurt Ken Cuccinelli, but not enough to make Tea Party conservatism toxic in the swing state of Virginia.

Additionally, neither contender was viewed as a particularly good candidate, making it unrealistic for those on the left and right to try to make either candidate a stand-in for his national party. (Democrats seem to consider McAuliffe an embarrassment even in victory, and for good reason.) But in fact this lack of an overarching theme is a theme in itself. That is, politics–party and individual, national and local–and not ideology offers a pretty simple explanation both for the election in Virginia and the one in New Jersey, in which Republican Chris Christie won reelection in a landslide in a heavily Democratic state. Bergen County Record columnist Charles Stile explains in a lengthy, but eminently worthwhile column how Christie cruised to victory:

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Searching for an overarching cause of the result in last night’s Virginia gubernatorial election is going to consist mostly of Democrats and Republicans talking past each other. That’s because, to some degree, they are both right. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout was not enough to doom Terry McAuliffe, but neither was his victory an affirmation that ObamaCare poses no real political risk to Democrats. Likewise, it seems the government shutdown hurt Ken Cuccinelli, but not enough to make Tea Party conservatism toxic in the swing state of Virginia.

Additionally, neither contender was viewed as a particularly good candidate, making it unrealistic for those on the left and right to try to make either candidate a stand-in for his national party. (Democrats seem to consider McAuliffe an embarrassment even in victory, and for good reason.) But in fact this lack of an overarching theme is a theme in itself. That is, politics–party and individual, national and local–and not ideology offers a pretty simple explanation both for the election in Virginia and the one in New Jersey, in which Republican Chris Christie won reelection in a landslide in a heavily Democratic state. Bergen County Record columnist Charles Stile explains in a lengthy, but eminently worthwhile column how Christie cruised to victory:

Christie’s bold leadership during Superstorm Sandy, the shrewd marketing of his Jersey tough guy persona and several important legislative accomplishments are indeed important factors in the strong support for his reelection. But while the public was seeing all of that, Christie discreetly and methodically courted Democrats with every lever of power at his disposal. By the end, many of those Democrats would supply the manpower, money or simply the photo ops for his campaign.

Long before Buono entered a race that no other Democratic contender wanted to come near, Christie had already won the campaign. While the cameras and the social-media feeds and the political pundits focused on Christie’s forceful personality, his often over-the-top comments and his welcoming embrace of President Obama after Sandy, Christie was planting the seeds for his own reelection, Demo­cratic mayor by Democratic mayor, Democratic boss by Democratic boss, Demo­cratic union leader by Democratic union leader. As the ancient Chinese military tome “The Art of War” noted, “Every battle is won before it is fought.”

That was only part of it, of course. Christie’s work to recruit Democrats to his campaign certainly helped, but his interactions with constituents were crucial to his reelection. Outside New Jersey, he is known for his made-for-YouTube confrontations. But within the state, far more powerful are the conversations Christie has with voters that aren’t YouTube-friendly.

Christie simply worked hard to make sure he was heard all around the state, and refused to accept the premise that there were any voters he couldn’t convince if given the chance. As the New York Times reports in its recap of Christie’s victory:

For example, he won over Michael Blunt, a black Democrat and mayor of Chesilhurst, a largely black borough in South Jersey, with relentless wooing. Mr. Blunt, who recalled how Mr. Christie held a town hall in his community, steered more municipal aid to it and invited him to a Juneteenth celebration, marking the end of slavery, at the State House, impressing him with his knowledge of the holiday. And the governor invited black elected officials to Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion near Princeton, and told them how a black friend in college took him to a historically black campus to demonstrate how it felt to be in the minority.

“If a person has no problem going in enemy territory to explain his policies, that person we really need to look at,” said Mr. Blunt, who was a delegate for Mr. Obama last year.

Christie won over numerous left-leaning voters not with slogans but with classic rope-line politics. As a skilled practitioner of local politics, Christie was able to keep national politics at bay–something neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli was able to do.

On this point, Politico’s piece on the “six takeaways” from the Virginia race is instructive. Briefly, here are reporter James Hohmann’s six lessons, though the article is worth reading in full for Hohmann’s explanation of each:

  • Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe.

  • Cuccinelli might have won if he had more money.

  • It was a base election.

  • The gender gap mirrored the presidential.

  • Obama himself was a mixed bag.

  • The shutdown still hurt Republicans.

Two of those stand out immediately as national issues: the government shutdown hurting Cuccinelli and ObamaCare hurting McAuliffe. The fact that it was a base election, according to Hohmann, would seem to indicate that the two candidates failed precisely where Christie succeeded: convincing the unconvinced. The “gender gap” is a complicated, but obviously national issue in the context of whether it “mirrored the presidential.”

And why might Cuccinelli have won with more money? In large part because he would have been able to run more ads and compete with the negative advertising blitz that McAuliffe was able to purchase with help from big-money, out of town, national politicians (like the Clintons, who were absent from the Jersey race, and Michael Bloomberg).

Members of the House of Representatives are rarely immune from public mood swings. Governors can be, but the Virginia gubernatorial election is a reminder of how easily a statewide race can be nationalized in such a media-saturated environment.

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Don’t Draw Firm Lessons From NJ and VA

The narrative of tomorrow’s off-year election seems already to be set. In New Jersey, Chris Christie will win a landslide that will confirm his status as a 2016 presidential contender and a potential centrist model for Republican victories in the future. But in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, the impending defeat of Ken Cuccinelli by veteran Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe is supposed to teach the GOP the opposite lesson: that nominating a Tea Party conservative is a death wish that, if applied in other swing states, is a certain guarantee of future disaster.

On the surface, there’s really no arguing with the obvious lessons coming out of these two states. Christie’s ability to win the affection of a broad cross-section of voters in blue New Jersey has turned him from an unlikely underdog winner, when he first beat Jon Corzine for governor in 2009, to a political juggernaut. On the other hand, Cuccinelli has never been able to live down the extremist tag that Democrats labeled him with and it’s unlikely that even the last week’s ObamaCare fiasco will be enough to make that election a close call, let alone allow him to win. But like all generalizations about politics, those drawn from New Jersey and Virginia are as likely to mislead us as they are to provide insight. Those looking to draw firm conclusions about what the GOP should do in 2014, let alone in 2016, should be hesitant about drawing hard and fast rules from these races.

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The narrative of tomorrow’s off-year election seems already to be set. In New Jersey, Chris Christie will win a landslide that will confirm his status as a 2016 presidential contender and a potential centrist model for Republican victories in the future. But in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, the impending defeat of Ken Cuccinelli by veteran Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe is supposed to teach the GOP the opposite lesson: that nominating a Tea Party conservative is a death wish that, if applied in other swing states, is a certain guarantee of future disaster.

On the surface, there’s really no arguing with the obvious lessons coming out of these two states. Christie’s ability to win the affection of a broad cross-section of voters in blue New Jersey has turned him from an unlikely underdog winner, when he first beat Jon Corzine for governor in 2009, to a political juggernaut. On the other hand, Cuccinelli has never been able to live down the extremist tag that Democrats labeled him with and it’s unlikely that even the last week’s ObamaCare fiasco will be enough to make that election a close call, let alone allow him to win. But like all generalizations about politics, those drawn from New Jersey and Virginia are as likely to mislead us as they are to provide insight. Those looking to draw firm conclusions about what the GOP should do in 2014, let alone in 2016, should be hesitant about drawing hard and fast rules from these races.

As I wrote yesterday, Christie believes his party should learn from what he’s accomplished in New Jersey. That he hopes that will convince Republicans to nominate him for president is also not a secret. And they would be crazy not to think seriously about how he has managed to govern as a conservative yet project an independent image. That provides him with a powerful argument to be the GOP standard-bearer in 2016. But anyone looking to duplicate Chris Christie’s success elsewhere needs to understand that he is a unique political character in a specific circumstance that isn’t likely to be found elsewhere.

It needs to be understood that despite all the talk about Christie’s centrism, much of that has more to do with atmospherics than political principles. New Jersey Democrats have been complaining for years that Christie is actually quite conservative, and they’re right. Far from being the poster child for “No Labels” centrism, Christie has been willing to work with Democrats in Trenton but mostly on his terms. If he has become the bête noire of GOP conservatives it’s been because of his embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy last year and his attacks on House Republicans over their stalling on an aid bill, not because of any heresy on conservative principle. Both on social issues like abortion and Tea Party core interests like reducing the size of government and fighting the power of unions, Christie fits in well with the rest of his party.

He’s gotten away with it not because citizens of the Garden State think he’s a closet liberal but because of the appeal of his personality and governing style. It’s an open question as to whether that brusque approach will play as well on the national stage as it has in New Jersey. But suffice it to say that I doubt a Republican looking to have that success in a different sort of state could use the same playbook. Though pundits will search for one, there’s no point looking for another Christie.

As for Virginia, even conservatives have to concede that Cuccinelli has been more vulnerable to liberal attacks than a more vanilla Republican might have been. But those who see him as the 2013 version of Todd Akin are being unfair. He’s actually made no real gaffes that could be used to brand him as an extremist. But he has been on the receiving end of an almost unprecedented Democratic blitz that sought to demonize him. As Politico reported over the weekend, McAuliffe has been the beneficiary of a fundraising advantage that few Democrats not named Clinton or Obama have enjoyed in recent decades. Combined with a government shutdown that disproportionately affected Virginians, the scandal surrounding the GOP incumbent in Richmond, and the demographic shifts that have already converted the commonwealth from a Republican state to one that might better be described as Democrat-leaning rather than a swing state, doomed Cuccinelli. So while it’s fair for Republicans to speculate whether someone else might have done better, it’s difficult to argue that anyone else would have been in that much stronger a position.

The bottom line here is that political science is not science. The lessons of New Jersey and Virginia are not to be ignored but they are, like almost all electoral scenarios, specific to particular personalities and circumstances. Neither the victory in one state nor the likely defeat in the other can provide Republicans with a foolproof pattern for success.

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Is Virginia Turning Blue?

Anyone pondering the nature of the mismatch in the Virginia governor’s race need only have noted who is coming to the aid of the two candidates. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton stumped for Terry McAuliffe. Tomorrow, an even bigger name, husband Bill, will do the same. Who’s riding to the rescue of Republican Ken Cuccinelli? Rick Santorum is mobilizing a conservative “strike force” to aid a GOP candidate facing a deficit in the polls that is starting to look like it might be insurmountable. In other words McAuliffe, who leads by 17 points in the latest Rasmussen poll, may be on the verge of a decisive win that could seal Virginia’s drift from a status as a purple swing state to a blue Democratic state.

There are those who are attempting to blame Cuccinelli for this state of affairs and point out the state attorney general has suffered badly from Democratic attacks on his right-to-life positions. But this is unfair. The Cuccinelli-McAuliffe matchup at one point looked to be favorable to the Republicans. Though Democrats have piled on with every imaginable charge, Cuccinelli is actually a well-spoken conservative whose views are by no means out of step with his state. Moreover, McAuliffe remains a deeply flawed candidate whose associations with the worst elements of the Washington D.C. world of lobbyists, inside deals, and corruption should have made him vulnerable to a straight arrow like Cuccinelli (although he was tainted, if only by association, by Governor Bob McDonnell’s ethical lapses). But instead of being sunk by his record, McAuliffe is coasting to victory. The explanation for this can’t be found in an analysis of the two candidates or even their tactical campaign decisions. The swing to the left is the result of demographic changes that should have already alerted us to the fact that Virginia is now moving into the category of a fairly safe Democratic state.

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Anyone pondering the nature of the mismatch in the Virginia governor’s race need only have noted who is coming to the aid of the two candidates. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton stumped for Terry McAuliffe. Tomorrow, an even bigger name, husband Bill, will do the same. Who’s riding to the rescue of Republican Ken Cuccinelli? Rick Santorum is mobilizing a conservative “strike force” to aid a GOP candidate facing a deficit in the polls that is starting to look like it might be insurmountable. In other words McAuliffe, who leads by 17 points in the latest Rasmussen poll, may be on the verge of a decisive win that could seal Virginia’s drift from a status as a purple swing state to a blue Democratic state.

There are those who are attempting to blame Cuccinelli for this state of affairs and point out the state attorney general has suffered badly from Democratic attacks on his right-to-life positions. But this is unfair. The Cuccinelli-McAuliffe matchup at one point looked to be favorable to the Republicans. Though Democrats have piled on with every imaginable charge, Cuccinelli is actually a well-spoken conservative whose views are by no means out of step with his state. Moreover, McAuliffe remains a deeply flawed candidate whose associations with the worst elements of the Washington D.C. world of lobbyists, inside deals, and corruption should have made him vulnerable to a straight arrow like Cuccinelli (although he was tainted, if only by association, by Governor Bob McDonnell’s ethical lapses). But instead of being sunk by his record, McAuliffe is coasting to victory. The explanation for this can’t be found in an analysis of the two candidates or even their tactical campaign decisions. The swing to the left is the result of demographic changes that should have already alerted us to the fact that Virginia is now moving into the category of a fairly safe Democratic state.

Given the fact that only a few years ago, Republicans dominated the state’s politics and had a long streak of winning the state’s electoral votes, this is a startling turnabout that many in the GOP are only just now starting to comprehend. Right up until the returns indicated that Barack Obama had once again taken Virginia in last year’s presidential election, most Republicans simply assumed that Mitt Romney would take it. They though that Obama’s 2008 win was the exception and that McDonnell’s landslide win to take back the governor’s chair for the GOP (after Tim Kaine’s 2005 Democratic victory) was the rule. They were wrong. McDonnell’s victory may have been the last gasp for Virginia Republicans. It isn’t likely that anyone will assume, as many in the GOP did earlier this year, that a Republican victory is inevitable, in 2016 or 2017.

The reasons for this have little to do with Democratic canards about Cuccinelli’s supposed extremism and everything to do with the way the demography of the state has changed in recent years. Whereas in the past, the conservative-leaning southern, western, and rural areas offset the more liberal northern D.C. suburbs, that is no longer the case. Under the current circumstances, it will take an extraordinarily attractive Republican and a problematic Democrat to give the state to the GOP.

If anything, that means instead of Republican bulwark or even a true swing state, the better analogy for Virginia is Pennsylvania, a state with GOP strongholds but which is usually won by Democrats taking advantage of their massive advantage in the urban centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. While Republicans can win statewide races when the political winds are blowing in their direction (as they were in 2010 when even a staunch conservative like Pat Toomey was able to win a Senate seat), it will take a GOP earthquake for them to win it again in a presidential election when the Democrats are able to get a massive minority turnout. The same may hold now for Virginia. Those Republicans who are thinking a more moderate Republican could have done better than Cuccinelli are probably wrong. From now on, pundits should assume Virginia is trending blue until proven otherwise.

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McAuliffe’s Lead Should Worry GOP

Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

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Up until the returns came in last November, many Republicans were still in denial about Virginia. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory there showed that a changing population had altered the assumption that it was a reliably red state. But Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial landslide the following year allowed Republicans to believe that the 2008 result was an anomaly. However, Obama’s narrow margin last fall made it apparent that the Old Dominion must be regarded as, at best, a purple state rather than a GOP stronghold. If there was any remaining doubt about that it, looks as if this year’s race for governor will confirm it. A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters. While such a margin shows that the race is still competitive, it is significant given the avalanche of bad publicity in recent weeks about the Democratic candidate’s ethical shortcomings. If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall.

McAuliffe’s ability to overcome polls that show voters are divided on the question of his honesty can be attributed in part to Cuccinelli’s reputation as a candidate of the hard right as well as the way Governor McDonnell’s serious ethical lapses have overshadowed any attention devoted to the Democratic candidate’s questionable private-sector activities. But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia. If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.

In a more GOP-friendly environment, McDonnell’s problems (which have put an end to any talk about him having a political future) might not be dragging Cuccinelli down. Nor would the attempts of the liberal mainstream media to tar the Republican candidate as an extremist be working quite as well if Republicans could still count on the more conservative southern and western parts of the state being able to turn out votes that could overwhelm the margins Democrats racked up in the northern districts close to Washington. But, as the last two presidential contests showed, that is no longer the case.

The Republicans may be working on the assumption that the off-year turnout for the Democrats in 2013 will resemble that of 2009 when McDonnell won rather than 2012 when large numbers of minority and young voters helped Obama hold Virginia. But the ability of a flawed and not terribly popular Democrat to stay ahead of Cuccinelli speaks not only to the Republicans’ problems but also to the fact that the state has to be seen as tilting to the left.

All politics is local, but if these numbers hold up in November, this is a very bad sign for the GOP. The conventional wisdom is that the national turnout in the 2014 midterms will be drastically down from that of 2012 and look more like the 2010 numbers when the Tea Party revolution helped generate a Republican landslide that took back the House of Representatives. That may well be the case, but the Virginia governor’s race could show that Democrats have the ability to turn out their voters in sufficient numbers to hold onto battleground states even in off-year elections.

Coming as it always does the year after the presidential election, the Virginia race is often seen as a bellwether. That will be even more the case this year since the only significant election this November—the New Jersey’s governor’s race—is a foregone conclusion with Chris Christie coasting to an easy win.

Despite the predictions of doom from the liberal press about the future of the Republican Party, 2014 looks to be a golden opportunity for the GOP to win back the Senate and set themselves up nicely for 2016. But Virginia presents an ominous indication that talk of changing demographics with larger numbers of minority voters is not merely liberal hype. Conservatives who believe their party shouldn’t worry about trying to attract Hispanics or blacks or independents need to look closely at Virginia this year and see that their assumptions about turnout may wind up being as misleading as they were last year when Romney lost. Complacence about changing demographics is a luxury Republicans can’t afford.

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McAuliffe, Cuccinelli, and Virginia’s Future

The state of Virginia has a powerful claim to be a genuine swing state worth fighting over. It has voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections, solidly Republican before that, and in the last four elections picked the eventual winner. It is home to the U.S. House majority leader, and currently has a Republican governor who succeeded a Democratic one. Additionally, its gubernatorial elections are on off-years, so the candidates must win without presidential (or congressional, for that matter) coattails.

President Obama’s two consecutive Virginia victories, combined with the influx of left-leaning voters from D.C. to the Virginia suburbs, left Democrats crowing that the state was turning blue. But Obama’s first victory there was followed almost immediately by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s 17-point drubbing of Democrat Creigh Deeds for what was effectively an open seat. It’s worth pointing out that McDonnell didn’t just beat Deeds. The Washington Post manufactured a story about a decades-old school paper of McDonnell’s and assaulted its readers with the story day in and day out, despite the fact that voters–get this–were basing their votes on the issues of the day and not an ancient school essay by one of the candidates. McDonnell’s victory, then, was a colossal rout.

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The state of Virginia has a powerful claim to be a genuine swing state worth fighting over. It has voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections, solidly Republican before that, and in the last four elections picked the eventual winner. It is home to the U.S. House majority leader, and currently has a Republican governor who succeeded a Democratic one. Additionally, its gubernatorial elections are on off-years, so the candidates must win without presidential (or congressional, for that matter) coattails.

President Obama’s two consecutive Virginia victories, combined with the influx of left-leaning voters from D.C. to the Virginia suburbs, left Democrats crowing that the state was turning blue. But Obama’s first victory there was followed almost immediately by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s 17-point drubbing of Democrat Creigh Deeds for what was effectively an open seat. It’s worth pointing out that McDonnell didn’t just beat Deeds. The Washington Post manufactured a story about a decades-old school paper of McDonnell’s and assaulted its readers with the story day in and day out, despite the fact that voters–get this–were basing their votes on the issues of the day and not an ancient school essay by one of the candidates. McDonnell’s victory, then, was a colossal rout.

But Virginia’s term limit rules mean there is no incumbent in gubernatorial elections, and November’s election is no less important to Virginia’s aspirations to be a bellwether state. It pits the smarmy, made-for-QVC Terry McAuliffe against the conservative firebrand and state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli. Polls show a close race with a narrow edge to McAuliffe, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton.

One major difference between this race and the 2009 gubernatorial election is that this one has all the personality the previous election lacked. It is never quite clear whether McAuliffe is trying to sell you on his candidacy, a ShamWow, or some slam-dunk investment opportunity his cousin told him about virtually guaranteed to mint money. His campaign slogan might as well be “McAuliffe: Act Now!” So it isn’t a complete surprise that McAuliffe is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for his car salesmanship. As the Washington Post reported:

An electric-car company co-founded by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its conduct in soliciting foreign investors, according to law enforcement documents and company officials.

In May, the SEC subpoenaed documents from GreenTech Automotive and bank records from a sister company, Gulf Coast Funds Management of McLean. The investigation is focused, at least in part, on alleged claims that the company “guarantees returns” to the investors, according to government documents.

GreenTech has sought overseas investors through a federal program that allows foreigners to gain special visas if they contribute at least $500,000 to create U.S. jobs. Gulf Coast, which is run by Anthony Rodham, the brother of former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, seeks investors for GreenTech and arranges the visas.

I’m guessing Clintonland isn’t exactly thrilled about this. Cuccinelli’s obstacles include getting out of the shadow of scandal thrown over McDonnell’s acceptance of gifts while in office. But he has won plaudits from conservatives for being an early and outspoken opponent at the state level of ObamaCare and for his social conservatism. As the Post reports, that is how this election is being framed thus far:

Every day, it seems, Cuccinelli’s forces find ways to portray McAuliffe as an unethical and unprincipled carpetbagger, a political opportunist who doesn’t possess the government experience or knowledge of Virginia needed for the state’s top job.

At the same time, McAuliffe’s team pounces at the chance to depict Cuccinelli as a conservative zealot who is anti-gay and anti-woman and whose views on social issues are too extreme for a state evolving into a hub of cosmopolitan life.

Cuccinelli seems to like his chances if voters internalize this characterization of the election as the social conservative vs. the traveling salesman. But it will be a consequential election either way. If McAuliffe wins, it will buoy claims of the red-to-blue trend Democrats insist is underway in Virginia. If Cuccinelli wins, it will paint the last two presidential elections as flukes and cast doubt on Democrats’ ability to win statewide without presidential coattails.

It would also show the limits of the Democrats’ obsession with “war on women” rhetoric scripted by the White House. It would not be the end of the debate over social issues in the state, however. Cuccinelli is a supporter of Virginia’s recent updates to its regulations for abortion clinics, which mandate state inspections of the clinics and upgrades to the facilities–oversight vociferously opposed by Democrats. The results of individual state elections can sometimes be under-interpreted and other times over-interpreted. Thanks to the national attention Virginia’s election is sure to draw and the issues at play, the implications of the race are in no danger of being underappreciated.

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Is It Worth It?

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is pushing back against Democrats’ complaints that he is wasting the Commonwealth’s money in suing to declare ObamaCare unconstitutional. Well, aside from the obligation of all elected officials to defend the Constitution, it seems it’s as smart a use of public funds as one could possibly find. In a news release, the AG explains:

The court filing fee for the case of Commonwealth v. Kathleen Sebelius in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was $350.  There has been no additional cost above this amount, as the litigation is being handled entirely by the attorney general’s staff.  The office also does not expect much outside cost, as outside counsel has not been retained.

Additionally, since the case is centered around a purely legal constitutional argument, the office anticipates no material costs for things such as discovery, witnesses, etc.

If the suit is successful, the savings to the Commonwealth of Virginia alone is estimated by the governor’s office to be about $1.1 billion from 2015-2022.  This is because if the health care reform act remains law, Virginia would realize an additional $1.1 billion in costs for the new Medicaid requirements called for in the act.  This savings figure does not take in to account the tax and fee savings to individuals and businesses if the federal law is struck down as unconstitutional.

That is $1.1 billion for a middle-sized state. If you think the fiscal impact of ObamaCare and the hue and cry resulting from the gush of red ink it will send spewing forth will be limited to the federal government, think again. All 50 states and  their elected officials will be coping with this — or trying to figure out how to rip it out before it wrecks not only the federal budget but state and local ones as well.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is pushing back against Democrats’ complaints that he is wasting the Commonwealth’s money in suing to declare ObamaCare unconstitutional. Well, aside from the obligation of all elected officials to defend the Constitution, it seems it’s as smart a use of public funds as one could possibly find. In a news release, the AG explains:

The court filing fee for the case of Commonwealth v. Kathleen Sebelius in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was $350.  There has been no additional cost above this amount, as the litigation is being handled entirely by the attorney general’s staff.  The office also does not expect much outside cost, as outside counsel has not been retained.

Additionally, since the case is centered around a purely legal constitutional argument, the office anticipates no material costs for things such as discovery, witnesses, etc.

If the suit is successful, the savings to the Commonwealth of Virginia alone is estimated by the governor’s office to be about $1.1 billion from 2015-2022.  This is because if the health care reform act remains law, Virginia would realize an additional $1.1 billion in costs for the new Medicaid requirements called for in the act.  This savings figure does not take in to account the tax and fee savings to individuals and businesses if the federal law is struck down as unconstitutional.

That is $1.1 billion for a middle-sized state. If you think the fiscal impact of ObamaCare and the hue and cry resulting from the gush of red ink it will send spewing forth will be limited to the federal government, think again. All 50 states and  their elected officials will be coping with this — or trying to figure out how to rip it out before it wrecks not only the federal budget but state and local ones as well.

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Northern Virginia Up for Grabs

Virginia continues to surprise Democrats and the elite media. This week a special election was held to fill the state Senate seat in Fairfax County vacated by conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who was elected as the state attorney general. The Democrat won but by only a few hundred votes. Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post — not known to make excuses for the GOP — explained that the Democrat was a “well respected, two-term member of the House of Delegates who is universally acknowledged as one of the state’s leading experts on juvenile justice, incarceration and rehabilitation,” while the Republican “served a single term on the Fairfax School Board before being unceremoniously turned out of office.” The result should give Democrats pause:

This is a no-brainer. [Democrat Dave] Marsden should’ve cleaned up. Instead, he won by scarcely 1 percent of the 23,600 votes cast. His margin of victory came from a 2-1 edge among the state’s 1,200 absentee voters, a constituency GOP officials somehow overlooked. All 40 seats in the state Senate will be up for grabs next November. Be afraid, Virginia Democrats, be very afraid.

But before we get to another round of state races, we have this year’s congressional contests. Gerry Connolly, a first-term congressman in the 11th district and former Fairfax County supervisor who replaced longtime and very popular Tom Davis, should be “very afraid” as well. Two Republicans — Fairfax county supervisor Pat Herrity and businessman Keith Fimian (who lost to Connolly in 2008 by a 54 to 43 percent margin, considerably ahead of John McCain, who lost to Obama by a 60 to 39 percent margin in the county) — are vying to challenge him.

Since coming to the Hill, Connolly has eschewed the model of his predecessor, a moderate, pro-business Republican who remained popular in his district even when Republican fortunes flagged. Instead, Connolly has voted down the line with Nancy Pelosi and Obama on the left-wing agenda. His votes on cap-and-trade and especially ObamaCare (which will hit his constituents with a bevy of new taxes) will certainly be under attack. Connolly has reason to be nervous: Bob McDonnell shocked Virginia politicos, who had come to see Fairfax as drifting further and further into the Blue, by carrying the county 51 to 49 percent, running against the very Obama agenda items Connolly has supported.

In a year in which Massachusetts is competitive, northern Virginia certainly will be — especially if Republicans can make the case that incumbent Democrats have lost faith with their more moderate voters.

Virginia continues to surprise Democrats and the elite media. This week a special election was held to fill the state Senate seat in Fairfax County vacated by conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who was elected as the state attorney general. The Democrat won but by only a few hundred votes. Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post — not known to make excuses for the GOP — explained that the Democrat was a “well respected, two-term member of the House of Delegates who is universally acknowledged as one of the state’s leading experts on juvenile justice, incarceration and rehabilitation,” while the Republican “served a single term on the Fairfax School Board before being unceremoniously turned out of office.” The result should give Democrats pause:

This is a no-brainer. [Democrat Dave] Marsden should’ve cleaned up. Instead, he won by scarcely 1 percent of the 23,600 votes cast. His margin of victory came from a 2-1 edge among the state’s 1,200 absentee voters, a constituency GOP officials somehow overlooked. All 40 seats in the state Senate will be up for grabs next November. Be afraid, Virginia Democrats, be very afraid.

But before we get to another round of state races, we have this year’s congressional contests. Gerry Connolly, a first-term congressman in the 11th district and former Fairfax County supervisor who replaced longtime and very popular Tom Davis, should be “very afraid” as well. Two Republicans — Fairfax county supervisor Pat Herrity and businessman Keith Fimian (who lost to Connolly in 2008 by a 54 to 43 percent margin, considerably ahead of John McCain, who lost to Obama by a 60 to 39 percent margin in the county) — are vying to challenge him.

Since coming to the Hill, Connolly has eschewed the model of his predecessor, a moderate, pro-business Republican who remained popular in his district even when Republican fortunes flagged. Instead, Connolly has voted down the line with Nancy Pelosi and Obama on the left-wing agenda. His votes on cap-and-trade and especially ObamaCare (which will hit his constituents with a bevy of new taxes) will certainly be under attack. Connolly has reason to be nervous: Bob McDonnell shocked Virginia politicos, who had come to see Fairfax as drifting further and further into the Blue, by carrying the county 51 to 49 percent, running against the very Obama agenda items Connolly has supported.

In a year in which Massachusetts is competitive, northern Virginia certainly will be — especially if Republicans can make the case that incumbent Democrats have lost faith with their more moderate voters.

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