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November 06, 2013 9:11 AM Tell Me Again Who Won in Virginia?

By Ed Kilgore

Before we get into any more election analysis, I have to make a preliminary objection to what we are hearing this morning about the Virginia governor’s race. Yes, we all play the expectations game, and Terry McAuliffe only won by two-and-a-half percent, which is less than most of the late polls anticipated. But to read this morning’s spin, you’d think he (and the Democratic Party) actually lost. The results are being widely read exactly as Ken Cuccinelli wanted them to be read: a negative “referendum on Obamacare.” Politico’s James Hohmann, in a piece entitled “Why Terry McAuliffe barely won,” draws bright red arrows pointing to an exit poll showing that 53% of voters said they opposed Obamacare. That’s entirely in line with about three years of polling about the Affordable Care Act, and doesn’t indicate any last minute “surge” against the law.

Aside from suggestions that voters were sending some sort of specific message by not turning out and voting exactly as polls predicted, we’re hearing that the only reason Ken Cuccinelli lost was that he didn’t have enough money. There’s even some “stab in the back” talk circulating, viz. this j’accuse! from anti-same-sex-marriage crusader Maggie Gallagher at National Review:

They said he was “unelectable.” The RNC put only $3 million into this race. Ken was outspent by a margin of something between 4:1 and 10:1, if you believe the Associated Press.
The Democrats poured everything into trying to lie to voters and portray Cuccinelli as an extremist — and they barely pulled this one out.
Would another $3 million have swung 50,000 votes? The Republicans, starting with Bill Bolling, who undercut Cuccinelli as unelectable have egg all over their faces.
This was a winnable election. How did we give this away to Terry McAuliffe? Some serious soul-searching should be taking place among the anti-tea-party faction.

Before anyone gets too far down the trail of “moral victories” and woulda-shouldas, it’s worth observing that any Democratic statewide victory in a purple state in an off-year election is a pretty remarkable accomplishment, given the turnout patterns that typically prevail in these events. I’ll be staring at the numbers more closely this week, and making sure you hear others’ analysis. But let’s begin by refusing to get too caught up in unmet expectations.

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.

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