It’s funny sometimes how little changes from one campaign to the next. The media/left campaign narrative at this point in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign is a familiar one: the Republican is an extremist woman-hater who presides over a party in turmoil and that is deeply divided between the the reasonable old guard and the ascendant nutjob wing. Take a gander at this flashback from 2009:
Today, a group of former GOP lawmakers endorsed State Senator Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee for Governor….My sense is that behind the scenes, the Republican Party of Virginia is still in disarray following the dismissal of its Chairman, Del. Jeff Frederick. The business oriented wing of the party can’t stand the social conservatives and vice versa.
The bottom line is Bob McDonnell’s close ties to Rev. Pat Robertson, make most Virginians, GOP, Independents and Democrats very nervous.
Sound familiar? Layer on top of that some seemingly bad news about polls that show a persistent lead for Terry McAuliffe and it all seems pretty demoralizing, right? Wrong. Don’t believe what you read in lefty media.
So what to believe? Very simply, the fundamentals favor Cuccinelli and are unlikely to be fully reflected in recent polling.
VIRGINIA STATEWIDE ELECTIONS ARE ALWAYS DOMINATED BY NATIONAL TRENDS
Maybe it’s merely proximity to Washington, or simply a byproduct of a fairly even partisan divide in a state that always elects governors one year after it votes for president. But in the modern era, Virginia ALWAYS votes for a Governor not of the president’s party. For example, Doug Wilder (D) won in 1989 after George H.W. Bush was elected president, George Allen(R) in 1993 and Jim Gilmore(R) in 1997 after Clinton’s election, Mark Warner(D) in 2001 and Time Kaine in 2005 after George W. Bush, and finally Bob McDonnell in 2009, after Obama.
Streaks are made to be broken, of course, and past performance is no guarantee of future success. But the fundamental reason this dynamic prevails likely has to do with the public’s persistent sense (especially after the first and usually most difficult year of a president’s term) that the country is on the “wrong track,” and a more intense desire among the partisans of the party out of power to avenge the presidential defeat. With the slow trainwreck that is Obamacare, both of those factors are likely to play big this year.
Polls in Virginia don’t tend to account for these factors either, which is why Bob McDonnell consistently underpolled in 2009, and one of the reasons why Cuccinelli’s true base of support is likely being missed in current polling.
THIRD-PARTY CANDIDATES ALWAYS OVERPOLL
Third party candidates never finish as high as they do in pre-election polling. Rob Sarvis is no different. In fact, he’s more like the usual unknown and underfunded crank that people tell pollsters they like in a “pox on both their houses” fit of pique than he is like the extraordinary third-party candidate that ends up actually doing very well (e.g., Jesse Venture as Minnesota Governor). Libertarian purists will vote for him, of course, but few others will actually waste their vote on this guy who is really devoid of relevant experience, accomplishment, or ability to win.
And that is another indicator that Cuccinelli is probably underpolling this time, as most of the support for Sarvis comes from those who would otherwise support Cuccienelli, as Sarvis himself did in 2009. (And don’t believe the garbage about Sarvis pulling equally from both major parties…it’s just not true) And if I’m wrong? Well, then at least the conservatives who support Sarvis will come home, and not support the self-described “moderate” Sarvis. Either way, Ken’s numbers go up.
First, the bad news ain’t so bad. There’s no doubt the Democrats’ ongoing character assassination against Ken Cuccinelli is taking a toll, but there is a limit to that type of campaigning. Since late spring McAuliffe has been pouring millions into spreading the message that Cuccinelli is anti-woman, and it seems unlikely that millions more will make a difference on that score. In fact, those who can be swayed by that type of smear likely already have been, and continued hysterical hyperbole may actually act to turn off the large number of undecideds.
The good news is on all of the other issues. In addition to jobs, taxes, and Obamacare’s crushing weight on businesses and economic growth, McAuliffe has given gifts to the Cuccinelli campaign in the form of stances on guns and energy that are way out of the mainstream for Virginia, especially among the odd-year electorate. Trendy hipster carbon-footprint sensibilities may poll well in suburban Washington, but it’s not going to turn out the vote in nearly the numbers that McAuliffe’s threat to sign the death warrant for Virginia coal will motivate voters in Southwest to show up for Cuccinelli.
On guns, history is again the best guide. Gun owners vote. And they vote in huge numbers when their rights are threatened. As close as McAuliffe is to Bill Clinton, I’m surprised he hasn’t heeded the former president’s advice to steer clear of this issue that does nothing but lose elections for Democrats. Instead, McAuliffe has doubled-down on becoming Nurse Bloomberg’s preferred candidate, and in promoting policies that likely make him the most anti-gun rights candidate for governor in the modern era.
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I don’t pretend for a second that I wouldn’t rather see Cuccinelli polling with a double-digit lead. Nor do I deny that there is real danger reflected in all the latest polling. But history, the unique characteristics of Virginia statewide elections, and the dynamics of key issues and the third-party phenomenon all suggest that my unconventional reading of this rather close race is actually much closer to the enduring fundamentals we’ll see on election day. Simply put, Ken is going to win.