How much satisfaction can the Democrats take in yesterday’s elections in Virginia? Not too much, I think. Their candidate for governor spent over $30 million and scored something less than an impressive win.
The biggest winners may be the downtown Richmond hotels, which will fill up with election lawyers coming in from all over the country for the recount in the race for Attorney General. Republican Mark Obenshain has a lead of 726 votes out of 2,205,843 cast, according to the State Board of Elections. That’s close enough that Democrat Mark Herring has the right to request a recount paid for by the state.
In the race for governor, Republican Ken Cuccinelli must be wondering what he did to deserve such rotten luck. Almost nothing went right for him. The government shutdown in early October infuriated tens of thousands of federal employees who blamed the Republicans for those anxious couple of weeks. The Washington Post published a poll showing him way behind, which no doubt cost him plenty in campaign contributions. And the embarrassing scandal of a businessman’s gifts to Governor and Mrs. McDonnell cost him the active support of a formerly popular figure.
He also had to contend with a Libertarian Party candidate, someone named Sarvis, who barely campaigned but served as a sort of depository for the anybody-but vote. He collected 145,418 votes, or 6.5%. How many of those would have otherwise gone to Cuccinelli, no one can say, but he could easily have cost Cuccinelli the election.
Cuccinelli has only himself to blame for other misfortunes. His supporters made sure the statewide nominations would be awarded in a convention, which led to his being saddled with an unelectable candidate for lieutenant governor, the firebrand preacher E.W. Jackson. His support of a silly “personhood” bill pushed by conservative zealot Bob Marshall left him (and Obenshain) open to charges of wanting to ban birth control. And my impression is that Cuccinelli and Obenshain did not campaign very hard in Northern Virginia, where they might have been able to limit their losses.
Instead, Democrat Terry McAuliffe ran up the score in the Washington suburbs and urban centers downstate, and managed to carry the northern suburbs of Richmond (Henrico County) while leaving the more rural areas to the Republicans.
Even so, McAuliff managed to win by only two and a half percent, not much of a victory when you consider that he outspent Cuccinelli by two to one. I couldn’t turn on the TV without being hosed by commercials blasting the Republicans. If TV is really that powerful, you’d think McAuliffe would have run away with it.
I’m not sure if the voters were responding to Cuccinelli’s late appeals to “send a message” opposing President Obama’s health-care program, or if people just didn’t like McAuliff very much, but the Democratic win in the state was not very strong. Even Jackson managed to get 45%, which was better than I expected. It was not a good day for the GOP, obviously, but not a repudiation of Republicans in general, either.
And finally, if the Republican state committee had opted for a primary instead of a convention, things would have been different. Today they would be congratulating Governor-elect Bill Bolling for his victory after a hard-fought campaign, financed by strong support in the business community, against the liberal fixer and carpetbagger McAuliffe. Be careful what you ask for.