Saturday, August 31, 2013

Larry Sabato's Review of the Virginia Gubernatorial Race - Bad News for Cuccinelli

Terry McAuliffe and Kookinelli
Elections are not over until the last ballot is cast and one never knows for certain what the out come will be.  Hence the need to push turn out all they way through election day no matter what the polls may be showing.  But so far, things are not looking good for extremist/religious fanatic Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP gubernatorial nominee who was anointed by a small far right faction of the Virginia GOP at a closed convention that was presided over by The Family Foundation and Tea Party elements.  All the latest polls show Terry McAuliffe up over Cuccinelli and moderate GOP defections continue.  Perhaps worse yet, Cuccinelli cannot escape his own record in the Virginia Senate and as Attorney General, which makes his charade that he's suddenly a moderate a near impossible sales pitch.  Throw in the extremism of his running mates, particularly the utterly insane "Bishop" E. W. Jackson, the ongoing Star Scientific scandal, and Cuccinelli's office's aid to gas companies seeking to screw Virginia landowners out of royalty payments and its more than a bit of a cluster fuck for Kookinelli.  Here are excerpts from Larry Sabato's "Crystal Ball":

As the calendar turns to September, the nation’s marquee race in 2013 is coming into focus: Terry McAuliffe (D) now has an edge over Ken Cuccinelli (R) in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and we’re changing our rating in the contest from toss-up to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

The decision is based on several factors, all of which seem to suggest that the former Democratic National Committee chairman is leading the state attorney general.

McAuliffe has managed to make the prospect of a Governor Cuccinelli seem scary, while Cuccinelli has “only” succeeded in making McAuliffe look like a run-of-the-mill, self-interested wealthy political hack. In this wholly negative race, that sad distinction matters.

What’s kept Cuccinelli from painting McAuliffe in even less favorable colors? The Bob McDonnell scandal (to which Cuccinelli is connected by the GOP party label and gifts from the same supplicant), his substantially lesser fundraising, E.W. Jackson’s nomination for lieutenant governor, and the defection of a sizable number of moderate Republicans led by the lieutenant governor he left as road kill, Bill Bolling.

Recent polling from Quinnipiac shows the McAuliffe up 48%-42% over Cuccinelli, and an internal poll from the Democratic Party of Virginia showed a similar margin (48%-44%). That is backed up by other polling. The respected HuffPost Pollster average shows McAuliffe up by eight points (45.1% to 37.1%). 

Another 1994 [Senate race between Sen. Chuck Robb (D) and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North (R)] comparison: By nominating a candidate who was too controversial and too conservative to beat Robb, who was damaged by scandal, Republican activists snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. If he does not turn his fortunes around, the same will be said of Cuccinelli, a favorite of the right wing of his party who was nominated at a low-attendance convention.

We’ve been hearing rumblings that some members of the state’s corporate community think they see the writing on the wall in this contest, and while a fair number of moderate Republicans have endorsed McAuliffe, Cuccinelli has little if any prominent crossover support. The Quinnipiac poll showed Cuccinelli attracting only 1% of Democrats, but McAuliffe winning 6% of Republicans. That’s not an imposing crossover vote, but it could be large enough to matter if it materializes on Election Day.

Tellingly, the Cuccinelli campaign has not released any internal polling, and from what we can discern from the campaigns, there seems to be a general consensus that McAuliffe is leading, although perhaps not by as much as the Pollster average would indicate.

Looming over everything is the possibility of an indictment of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). By now, the details of this seedy, greedy gifts scandal are well known. McDonnell and his wife benefited from their relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. to the tune of over $100,000 in gifts, such as expensive shopping sprees for First Lady Maureen McDonnell and $70,000 for a corporation owned by the governor and his sister — as well as the infamous $6,500 engraved Rolex watch for the 71st governor. Now federal officials are weighing whether or not to take action.

What happens if McDonnell is indicted? There will be a strong push to have him resign, and some Republican officeholders have quietly made it known they will support such a move. If McDonnell gives into the pressure, then Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will become the interim governor. 

If he becomes governor, Bolling will have three options: He can endorse McAuliffe outright (there have been friendly words and gestures between the two), he can remain neutral (which also helps McAuliffe), or he can give his open or covert assent to a gubernatorial write-in effort. Chuckle all you like, but Bolling is much easier to spell than Murkowski, and both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have lousy favorability ratings. Any such effort would have to be well funded, and Bolling would have to make clear he would serve if elected. Disproportionately, a Bolling write-in campaign would likely help Cuccinelli by draining many anti-Cuccinelli votes from McAuliffe; this is a key reason why Bolling might not do it.

Believe it or not, non-indictment is the option preferred by many Democrats. They get to keep McDonnell to kick around through November, linking his gifts to Cuccinelli’s much smaller haul from the same source. They avoid the possibility of a Gov. Bolling write-in effort. And McDonnell — once a popular governor who might have been able to drag Cuccinelli across the finish line — is still neutralized because of the lingering taint. McDonnell will never be able to proclaim, “I’m innocent.” The facts are already obvious to all. His parting slogan will be, “I wasn’t indicted.”

A Democratic sweep?

Virginia has a short ballot — an innovation of the 1920s — and so only governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are popularly elected. In the contest for lieutenant governor, Democrats have a highly probable victory. State Sen. Ralph Northam (D) should win handily over E.W. Jackson (R), an African-American minister who has a long trail of controversial statements but has never held public office.

The contest for attorney general is low visibility and may be the closest of the three races. State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) is a former Senate desk mate of Cuccinelli, but he has been trying to steer his campaign in a more moderate direction, at least rhetorically. His opponent, state Sen. Mark Herring (D), insists that Obenshain’s actual legislative voting record is nearly identical to Cuccinelli’s. Obenshain is the most likely winner on the GOP slate, and Republicans normally have the advantage for this office, having won every election for it since 1993. But it is easy to see how Herring could win in a ticket election where mainly partisans show up at the polls and stay in one party’s column. Herring is also fortunate to be placed on the ballot after lieutenant governor, where the Democratic win could be sizable. For now, we’ll call it a TOSS-UP

As noted, it is critical that Democrats and moderates who view the GOP slate as poisonous continue to do all they can to turn out friends and family in droves on election day to send a message to the insane GOP base:  No longer can the GOP base nominate crazies and extremist and win in Virginia and by extension across America.  I want not only a Democrat sweep, but also a crushing defeat for the most extreme slate every nominated in Virginia's history.  The Family Foundation needs to be permanently exiled into the political wilderness.  The way for this to happen is to have the slate it basically nominated crushed on election day.  Having backing from The Family Foundation needs to become the kiss of death in Virginia politics.

Disclosure: Sabato and I were classmates as undergraduates at UVA.

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