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March 29, 2013 10:13 AM Look Out, Virginia!

By Ed Kilgore

WaPo’s Karen Tumulty has the first big media preview of this year’s Virginia governor’s race featuring Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. And here’s the real lede: “Both sides expect the race to be one of the most vicious the state has seen.”

Tumulty mentions but does not dwell upon a data point that we will hear interminably from Republicans during the VA campaign:

In every one of Virginia’s past nine gubernatorial contests, the Old Dominion has rejected the party of the president elected only a year before.

(I once did a Five Thirty Eight post casting doubt on this “Virginia always votes against party controlling White House” myth, but it seems to have been lost in the mists of the 538 archives. I may revisit the analysis later this year, but suffice it to say there are other explanations for the phenomenon, mainly revolving around the internal partisan dynamics of the Old Dominion rather than any “national referendum” effect).

Tumulty spends more time, appropriately, on the turnout dynamics that could give Republicans more of an advantage than any historical “rules:”

If the electorate looks like it usually does in an odd-numbered year, with one-third fewer voters and a stronger GOP tilt, Cuccinelli may hold the edge.
McAuliffe’s best chance of breaking the off-year curse is reviving and replicating the coalition that delivered the state to Obama last year. That would require boosting turnout among Hispanics, African Americans, young people and unmarried women younger than 50, all of whom tend to sit out elections when there is no presidential race.

Beyond turnout mechanics, McAuliffe’s big opportunity is the record of his opponent. Cuccinelli has pretty much represented the gold standard of Christian Right/Tea Party conservatism, taking a central position in the legal battle against ObamaCare, championing the most extreme anti-abortion policies, and most recently, splitting with sitting Republican governor Bob McDonnell on the incumbent’s signature transportation package. He’s lucky that the putative GOP nominee he pushed aside, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, has foresworn an independent candidacy this year. And Cooch’s recently published book is a veritable oppo-research gold mine, full of radical ravings.

For all of the two candidates’ national notoriety, a recent Quinnipiac poll of Virginia, which gave the Republican a one-point lead, showed surprisingly low name-ID for both, and particularly for McAuliffe (whose 2009 primary campaign was short-lived and underwhelming).

It’s all the more reason this will be a campaign dominated by early negative advertising, as both camps seek to define the opposition before it can define itself.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on March 29, 2013 11:13 AM:

    So, the choice in VA, is between The Devil, and the not-at-all deep blue D.

    iyater grave
    Jayzoos, CRAPTCHA, it's bad enough ya done it, don't be braggin' 'bout it!!!

  • Rich on March 29, 2013 11:34 AM:

    Hack vs. neanderthal. Actually, Va often has had contests like this. It's why it's still not a swing state in the same sense as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc. not matter how much the Beltway types who live there want us to think it doesn't just tend to elect the cowardly, the sleazy, and the stupid.

  • Perspecticus on March 29, 2013 11:39 AM:

    “Both sides expect the race to be one of the most vicious the state has seen.”

    Funny. After listening to Ms. Tumulty's appearances over the whiles on the Diane Rehm Show Weekly Wrap-up (10 and 11am Eastern, Fridays!), this line sums her up perfectly. No condition in politics exists that Ms. Tumulty is unable to ascribe to "both sides", whether apt or not.

  • Mimikatz on March 29, 2013 11:46 AM:

    Don't forget climate-change-denier Cuccinelli's disgraceful persecution of UVa's Michael Mann for his "hockey stick" graph, showing increasing average ambient temperatures. Cooch is a real Torquemada, even though he is now trying to soften his image.

  • Don on March 29, 2013 2:15 PM:

    The stories about odd-year turnout drive me up a fking wall...

    "Ermagherd, you mean they expect us to vote, like EVERY YEAR?!?!?!?111?"

    I mean, come on, how hard is it really?

  • exlibra on March 29, 2013 5:08 PM:

    I attended my monthly "Dem Hens Lunch" yesterday. At one point, someone asked: "so, who's excited about terry McAuliffe's candidacy?" This was followed by about 30 seconds of silence and looking around the table at everyone else, followed by a burst of laughter, when all of us realised that we didn't like him one bit (for various reasons).

    The consensus was: "we'll vote for him, sure, since the other is not to be contemplated, but..." And this is what you might call "the base" of the Dem party in the off-years -- the over-50, educated, reasonably well-to-do white broads...

  • low-tech cyclist on March 29, 2013 7:46 PM:

    It's not that I don't like McAuliffe, but he's one of those guys whose name I've known seemingly forever, yet I still have no idea what he stands for, or really much of anything else about him besides his being a longtime national Democratic Party insider.

    And I'm a political junkie.

    Which I think highlights the difficulty of getting Virginia voters excited enough about him to turn out this fall.

    One would hope that no actual human being could lose to Cuccinelli, but McAuliffe is less of a human being than the political equivalent of a Ken doll.

  • low-tech cyclist on March 30, 2013 1:25 PM:

    It's not that I don't like McAuliffe, but he's one of those guys whose name I've known seemingly forever, yet I still have no idea what he stands for, or really much of anything else about him besides his being a longtime national Democratic Party insider.

    And I'm a political junkie.

    Which I think highlights the difficulty of getting Virginia voters excited enough about him to turn out this fall.

    One would hope that no actual human being could lose to Cuccinelli, but McAuliffe is less of a human being than the political equivalent of a Ken doll.