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McAuliffe Narrowly Defeated Cuccinelli in Virginia Governor's Race: Why? and What's Next

Updated on November 21, 2013

Democrat Terry McAuliffe Narrowly Won the Virginia Gubernatorial Race Over Republican Ken Cuccinelli: Why and whats next

The widely watched governor’s race in Virginia ended with Democratic Terry McAuliffe winning over Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a two and a half percent margin (47.74 to 45.28), according to Larry J. Sabato in his Crystal Ball article. Immediately after the election, pundits and politicians began examining the reasons Cuccinelli lost and what the future holds for both former candidates. The first question that confronted the GOP was, “why did Cuccinelli lose when everything was in his favor?”

“[Cuccinelli] got beat because the voters knew all about him”

Larry Sabato, in his Crystal Ball piece, suggested that everything was on Cuccinelli’s side. He wrote: “A year ago, almost everyone who followed Virginia politics thought that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) had the inside track to winning the governorship. After all,” he said, “it was in the 1880’s when Virginia last gave a party just four conservative years in the Governor’s Mansion.” He also said he held the pivotal position (Attorney General) to propel him into the Governor’s Mansion. He held, he said, “one of the two positions that have served as a stepping stone to the mansion traditionally.” Besides that, he continued, “He was running against a controversial, professional fundraiser who was best known as a ‘Clinton intimate,’ and who was last seen getting blown out of the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2009” and “had never held public office anywhere and was not even closely associated with Virginia.” Pointing to a so-called Virginia curse, he concluded: “Additionally, Virginia had a jinx, going back to 1977, of voting against the president’s party in its gubernatorial election, which is held the year after every presidential election.” Despite all he had on his side, Cuccinelli lost the race. The question is, why?

In an hour-long interview with The Washington Post, Cuccinelli blamed his campaign for tactical blunders, accused the media for not being fair, berated McAuliffe for lying about him, and bemoaning out-of-state donors for contributing large sums of money to McAuliffe’s campaign. Washington Post writer, Laura Vozzella, wrote: “He acknowledged a tactical mistake by his campaign, bemoaned his treatment by the news media and said that McAuliffe and his campaign ‘lied their way to victory.’” Referring to the fact that he was outspent by McAuliffe, he said, “Truth still has a lot of value, but apparently it’s somewhere between zero and $15 million.” Besides that, his chief strategist, Christ LiCivita, “complained that the Republican Governors Association and other GOP donors prematurely stopped giving to [his] campaign at a time when victory was still possible.” That is Cuccinelli’s appraisal of why he lost the race.

But Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax rightly said: “He doesn’t have anybody to blame but himself. And he got beat because the voters knew all about him,” The Washington Post article quoted him as saying.

Referring to McAuliffe’s narrow win, Sabato drove the point home: “…it is noteworthy that [McAuliffe] won by any margin. Ultimately, Cuccinelli was just too socially conservative for a moderate swing state that is trending away from its traditional roots.”

McAuliffe’s lead narrowed because “Republicans came home at the end.”

The voters, indeed, knew Cuccinelli and, therefore, voted against him for who he is. But the race was closer than polls had shown, perhaps because many Republicans who pledged to vote for McAuliffe changed their minds, not necessarily to help Cuccinelli win but to keep from crossing over the party line. Sabato was probably right: “It’s also possible, for all the hullabaloo over the many high-profile endorsements McAuliffe received from various Republicans, the rank and file Republicans ultimately didn’t want to crossover to vote…and thus came home in the end.” CNN’s exit polls certainly suggest that. According to exit polls, Cuccinelli got 92 percent of the Republican vote and McAuliffe got 95 percent of the Democratic vote. All of that, perhaps, played into McAuliffe’s narrow win.

McAuliffe’s way forward as Governor, an uphill battle

Because Republicans control the Virginia House of Delegates, with an overwhelming majority (62-32) and the Virginia Senate is equally divided (20-20)—at present, the new Democratic Governor, Terry McAuliffe, will have a hard time going forward. Larry Sabato rightly said, “The GOP is not about to make the mistake they committed with then-Gov. Mark Warner (D) by working with him and helping him enact a large transportation package…including tax and fee increases, [which] brought down the wrath of the base upon them [and] made Warner a political figure to be reckoned with.” As soon as the election of the new governor was called, the Republican Speaker of the House, Bill Howell, “made it clear that Republicans have no intention of working closely with McAuliffe,” according to Sabato.

If the new governor’s “mandate was to keep Cuccinelli out of the Governor’s Mansion,” he has done that, but to meet the progressive demands to work with the Obama administration to make the Affordable Care Act work, to deal with the high tunnel tolls proposed by Governor McDonnell, to ease concerns about women’s health issues, to grow the economy, and to conquer other lingering issues important to progressives will be a daunting task. No doubt, he will face roadblocks similar to those President Bill Clinton faced and those President Obama faces with a Republican controlled House of Representatives.

Despite the rough road ahead, however, McAuliffe has already started the long, hard journey. On Wednesday, he called on business leaders to support him in pushing for Medicaid expansion, according Dave Ress of the Daily Press. In his speech to the chamber of Commerce, the Governor elect called upon the chamber members and business people “to help convince the Republican dominated House of Delegates to go along.” If they fail to do so, he said, nothing will happen. He also talked about broadening preschool programs, boosting the economy, improving workforce development, and reforming the standards of learning. McAuliffe knows he cannot do the job without the support of the business community, the labor unions, and the education community.

Ken Cuccinelli talks about what’s next for him

Reflecting on his loss of the Virginia governor’s race, Ken Cuccinelli complained about being outspent in the election and about being lied about. He also disclosed his disappointment that his contributors lost faith in him. The “only break” he got was “Obamacare,” he noted.

About his future, he told the Post, he will return to practicing law. But the most telling thing in the interview was the thoughts he expressed about Senator Warner’s 2014 reelection bid for the U.S. Senate. The failings of the new health-care law, he told The Washington Post in this first interview after losing the governor’s race, will make Senator Mark Warner vulnerable next year. Although he said he has no current plans to run against Warner, he said he finds the idea “tempting.” “There is no such thing as an unendangered Democrat who promised, as Mark Warner did, on video, sitting in his Senate office, ‘I would not vote for a health-care plan that doesn’t let you keep health insurance you like,’” Cuccinelli told the Post. His answer to Warner: “Oh, really!” You were the tie-breaking vote.”

Without a doubt, he is considering a run against Warner, saying he voted for the Affordable Care Act and purposefully lied about keeping policies people had. If he, indeed, runs against Senator Warner and seeks to use that line in his ads, he might discover that what Warner said was time sensitive. That is, at the time he made the statement, it was true. If you believe what President Obama, and others who have read the law, said, the Affordable Care Act grandfathered in policies that did not meet the standards of the law. At the time, however, no rational thinking person would have thought insurance companies would continue issuing millions of policies that would not meet the standards when the law went into effect, knowing that they would have to cancel those policies. But that is what happened. Besides that, President Obama has made an administrative fix to the law to atone for it.

Furthermore, by the time of the 2014 elections, the Affordable Care Act might be too successful for Cuccinelli to run against, with any degree of success.

Whatever is alleged about the win and loss in the Virginia governor’s race, two things seem certain: Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe will not lie down and die. Rather, he will do his best to live up to the promises he made on the campaign trail, regardless of Republican opposition. And Ken Cuccinelli will not ride off into the sunset.

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    • Lawrence L Beale profile image
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      Lawrence L Beale 3 years ago

      Thanks for your comment.

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      CHARLIE BEALE JR. 3 years ago

      The GOP has a lot to learn about public relations. It has shown that it is a party for the elite. It (GOP) shows little or no concern concerning females rights and people of color and the poor. It attempts to prevent that entire group from the ballot box are treasonous. We will see how they fare in 2014. The old guard has fallen and won't admit that post-modern politics is becoming the nwe standard.