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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.

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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