by Paul Goldman
With all due respect to my friend Professor Larry Sabato, 200-proof politics responds this way: professor, you are dead wrong about the 2013 election. So are those who say that Cuccinelli is a sure winner if he can make the election a referendum on McAuliffe.
First of all, I am probably the only Democrat who ever had anything to really do with winning a governor’s race AND who actually has worked with Attorney General Cuccinelli in several important pieces of legislation (which we got passed this year with huge bipartisan support). I am currently working with him on his effort to improve the current situation as regards restoration of rights for individuals who have worked hard to show they want to be fully, productive members of their community.
So I don’t come at this analysis from the standpoint of the national guys who could care less about the state, or rank party partisans who don’t care about any of the facts. 200-proof politics has had enough success on historic things – others may take the credit but the history books are clear – not to worry about having to proof this or that to any person or group or whatever. We can just tell it like it is.
Bottom line: Neither candidate has a “sure-win” strategy unlike, say, Kaine and Warner, or Robb and Baliles. Tim wins, like Baliles, if they sell their candidacy as a “second term” for a popular Democratic incumbent. It always works. Warner and Robb, by and large, couldn’t lose; they had big leads all the way. They just had to be smart about taxes and other key issues.
Doug Wilder needed to run the perfect campaign and then get lucky twice. In a way, that made it easy, since there weren’t a lot of options to choose from; we simply had to make a virtue out of a necessity. Wilder got his miracle. George Allen had a path to victory, but so did Mary Sue Terry: she made the wrong turn on the road to the Governor’s Mansion. Jim Gilmore and Don Beyer each had a path to victory: Gilmore chose his, Beyer did not.
In 2009, Creigh Deeds had NO CHANCE to win. His campaign could have been better. But it never had a chance to win unless McDonnell made a series of big mistakes.
Now comes 2013. BOTH TERRY AND KEN have paths to victory. Historically, the Attorney General’s path is easier. But he has no “sure winning path” to victory. There is a strategy for Terry to win. Whether he and his team choose correctly is a separate question. But all this doom and gloom is just so much “smack” talk from Sabato and the others.
Clearly, Terry and Ken are not the usual candidates for Governor of Virginia in modern times. Cuccinelli is at least one standard deviation (to the right) from the ideologically normative. Terry is the first person to try and win for Governor whose political image has basically been created by efforts outside of Virginia.
In other states, these situations are not unusual: but in Virginia, are modern two party politics is of recent vintage. Thus there aren’t a lot of “data points” in the technical sense.
Cuccinelli has two big advantages: His performance as AG gets reasonably positive reviews, and there is a sitting apparently popular GOP Governor who has political reasons to want Cuccinelli to win even if they aren’t the best of buds. Those are historically big assets in a GUV race. But the number of truly swing independent voters in a VA governor’s race is down from, say, when Warner or Wilder were running.
Bottom line: McAuliffe can win. Dr. Sabato and the others are wrong in saying that Cuccinelli has a sure path to victory. That is not true. However, the McAuliffe campaign will need to bring its A-game to the contest. The Cuccinelli campaign has been a little rocky so far. But he has some top talent helping him too. So he probably will not make a fatal mistake.
So the big worry for Democrats isn’t whether they can win. Rather, it is whether they are willing to do what is necessary to win. This remains to be seen. So far, I have not seen it.