Saturday, October 26, 2013

How Ken Cuccinelli Blew His Early Advantage

I will not feel comfortable until the votes are counted on the evening of November 5, 2013, and it is confirmed for certain that GOP lunatic candidate Ken Cuccinelli has gone down to defeat.  Yet the post mortems have already begun and a remarkable piece in the Washington Post authored by political polar opposites slams both Cuccinelli and his campaign for bungling and unbelievable tone deafness when it comes to reading the public mindset.  Much of the piece would blame Cuccinelli's campaign staff, but in my view, the real problems ultimately is Cuccinelli himself who (i) is a "true believer" fanatic who is so certain of his own views that he cares nothing about what others - including a majority of voters - may think and (ii) has created many easily avoidable disasters for himself.  Long ago he should have gotten out and mingled with those outside the echo chamber of The Family Foundation and far right organizations that much of the larger public perceive as scary and/or insane.  That, of course, would have been inconsistent with his zealot/fanatic/extremist mindset. Cuccinelli will likely never grasp that the views of The Family Foundation are not representative of most Virginians.  Here are column excerpts:

Last month, we wrote that Ken Cuccinelli II’s campaign to become Virginia’s next governor needed to raise its game or face certain defeat. Has it done so? Unequivocally, no.  Cuccinelli’s strategists and consultants have doggedly followed a baffling strategy.

Even the best campaigns can lose. But an inept campaign guarantees a loss for an underdog, and Cuccinelli (R) has been the underdog since July. The attorney general’s defenders will undoubtedly refute our analysis, claiming instead that bad luck and strong headwinds have hobbled the GOP effort in Virginia. In our view, his problems went much deeper.

Simply put, Cuccinelli’s advisers never displayed an ability to win. They badly underestimated the seasoned team of his opponent, Terry McAuliffe (D), which was aided by nearly twice as much campaign cash.

[T]he real damage from “giftgate” had nothing to do with luck. It resulted from Cuccinelli’s inexplicable refusal to repay the $18,000, even after McDonnell had reimbursed Williams. This gave McAuliffe a political gift: an issue to use in a late-summer television ad barrage to undercut Cuccinelli’s previously “clean” image. When Cuccinelli’s campaign finally realized its huge, unforced error, it reversed course and Cuccinelli donated the value of the gifts to charity. But the damage was done.

Cuccinelli’s defenders also bemoan the bad timing of the federal shutdown and debt default, which soured voters on Republicans generally. It’s true that was a tough break. But by then, his campaign was already lagging in the polls.

Moreover, Cuccinelli had been angling to harness tea party enthusiasm since his first-in-the-nation legal challenge to Obamacare in 2010. He had to know — or should have known — the risks of associating himself with the bloc’s often-rigid views. This month, he and shutdown leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the tea party’s hero of the moment, were the featured speakers at the conservative Family Foundation’s annual gala in Richmond.
Bad luck also didn’t create a pattern of pitting gubernatorial candidate Cuccinelli against Attorney General Cuccinelli on issues such as McDonnell’s transportation plan, unpopular tolls in the Tidewater region and landowner rights in Southwest Virginia.

No, Cuccinelli’s problems aren’t about luck. They’re about a candidate and a campaign team being unable to play this level.

Consider: Early on, Cuccinelli refused to resign as attorney general when he mounted his run for governor, as predecessors of both parties have done. We agree that this unique Virginia tradition is outdated. But given that several developing cases were fated to become front-page news during the election, his campaign advisers should have seized on the Virginia tradition as a blessing. They didn’t see it.

Cuccinelli, the likely easy winner in the already declared GOP gubernatorial primary, decided nonetheless to get the rules changed. He helped force a nominating convention that was stacked against rival Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. The perceived double-cross alienated key Republicans.

As McAuliffe’s summer ad campaign methodically wrecked Cuccinelli’s image, the Republican’s consultants failed to offer what professionals call an “alternative positive narrative.”

Cuccinelli’s consultants agreed with Virginia political observer Larry Sabato, who said the GOP nominee was a sure winner once Republicans launched their anti-McAuliffe campaign. We debunked such foolishness early on. The Cuccinelli campaign long promised an October surprise. Right.

The verdict: “Unable,” aided and abetted by “unlucky,” leads to “unelectable.”

The authors of this scathing piece:  Norman Leahy, an editor of the conservative Web site and producer of the political radio show “The Score,” and Paul Goldman, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.  Typically, these men do not agree on anything.  

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