by Paul Goldman
Earth to the Virginia press, pundits, professors, and political editorial writers: What you think you know about the 2013 campaign is all wrong. When all is said done – and $100 million spent – he is the very likely bottom line:
In the 2009 GUV race, exit polls said 34% of the voters where Evangelical/Born-Again Christians. They voted 83% for Bob McDonnell. In the 2012 presidential race, Evangelical/Born-Again Christians were only 23% of the electoral. They voted 83% for Mitt Romney.
In 2009, 21% of the voters came from urban areas, 48% suburban, and 31% from Virginia’s rural communities. In 2012, 22% came from urban areas, 50% from suburban, and 28% from rural communities. Thus, on a statistical basis, the urban/suburban/rural mix in both years was roughly the same on a generic definition basis given the margins of error.
Bob McDonnell won easily in 2009, the President won close but convincingly in 2012. Indeed, if you study closely the 2012 election – and Kaine’s election in 2005 – this much is clear: If Ken Cuccinelli knew how to run a campaign for Governor, the idea that he was too extreme to win would be ludicrous to anyone who knew anything about winning elections.
To be sure, Bolling bolting, Jackson ranting and now McDonnell’s ethical meltdown have created all kinds of problems for the VA GOP. Moreover, failure to evidence a real passion for the normative issues which have decided GUV races over the years has led to the weirdest GOP GUV campaign in memory. This is why I was the first to say all the omens are there for the first Democratic sweep since Wilder led the party to victory in 1989.
But it is also why I am the first to say the following: If by some reason of smarts or luck the Cuccinelli campaign gets a straight, more normative shot at the Democrats this fall, there is a way for the GOP candidate to win even though the Democrats have all the advantages this year. My sweep can be swept aside. So much for that Crystal Ball.
The statistics don’t lie.
1. This is why I have said it is crazy for Cuccinelli to try and pretend he is now a moderate. He is a rock-ribbed conservative. His being against gay marriage and abortion will not cost him the election. His being against Medicaid expansion, Obamacare and the Governor’s road taxes will not cost him the election. If he can drive a 34% Evangelical turnout, then at least 40% of the voters will be conservative. These voters are going to be for Cuccinelli in the same big numbers as McD and Romney. There is NOTHING Terry MAC can do to win them over. Indeed, he is precisely the kind of Democrat they despise. The GOP will use this to drive the vote.
2. Without a big Evangelical/Born-Again turnout, Cuccinelli can’t win unless something changes the structure of this election. It can’t get to 50%. This is why Republicans were laughing when Democrats tried to encourage LG Bolling to run. Cuccinelli has to run a campaign that motivates this vote. If they are only 30% of the electorate, he isn’t going to win even with a perfect campaign.
Bottom line: It will be far easier for Cuccinelli to generate a 34% turnout ala 2009 than it will be for Democrats to significantly increase the turnout of the Obama base voter. However, the statistics suggest Democrats should come out better in 2013 than in 2009. For one thing, they have a smarter team in place with better focus. This will make it harder for Cuccinelli to get his 34% number. But it also means the GOP knows this too.
Moreover, Cuccinelli might not be able to win even with a 34% turnout if Terry MAC maintains his strength with moderate voters. Why? There is not going to be much cross-over voting between partisans: but to the extent there is, Terry figures to get more than Cuccinelli. Independents are more moderate as a group than partisans.
Net, net: Terry has a statistical advantage right now because he has a good chance to pull from three wells of voters slightly better than Cuccinelli can afford: Republicans, the marginal DEM base turnout voter, and independents.
Thus: Unless Cuccinelli can get a big Evangelical/Born-Again turnout, he seems statistically blocked from getting 50% unless the McAuliffe campaign blows it. This is why the press, pundits, professors and political editorial types are telling the AG to go left, go moderate. But it is the wrong advice: even if he could win some additional unexpected votes on that side of the fence with such an a campaign, he can’t win enough of them to cover any short fall in the 34% number.
If Cuccinelli can get Evangelical/Born-Again Christians to make up 34% of the turnout, then he should get a minimum of 48% even with the worst campaign. More likely he would get closer to 49% under normative conditions. Terry MAC has several statistical ways to win: he doesn’t need to drive Democratic turnout to win, there are other ways.
But Cuccinelli is like the guys at D-Day: You can’t back up, you can only go forward. The Goldmans were at D-Day. You do what you got to do. Meaning: Either Cuccinelli gets a his turnout, or he loses. Unless conservatives are eager to vote for him, he is a sure loser. It is that mathematically simple.
So es, it is no revelation: The difference between 23% and 34% is HUGE. It is the key metric right now. Can Cuccinelli hit 34%?
Not as of today. That’s why I label him the underdog. But it is not impossible by any means even if he runs the worst campaign.