by Paul Goldman
While admittedly most in the media and politics, given their comments, disagree with me, here at 200-proof we don’t hesitate to call it like we see it. In that regard, Terry McAuliffe is not getting the credit he deserves right now. He is on the verge of making political history for Virginia. He would be the first in the modern two-party era to win after having been defeated in a campaign for Governor – either convention, primary or general election – and then gone on to win a 4-year lease to the best public housing in the state.
The media and many pundits seem obsessed with Terry’s flaws as a candidate and resume gaps in terms of running the government of Virginia. In that regard, Terry would also be making history: I don’t recall him having even been appointed to even a minor post by any previous Democratic or Republican Virginia Governor. This too will be a first – someone without any experience in VA state government.
We get that at 200-proof, we know our history. But at the same time, we know how to make history. And we also don’t see too many of the pundits or media “experts” having much experience at anything but running their mouths. They are smart for sure, as they’ll be the first to tell you.
In truth, Terry has the most important experience needed to be Governor. He understands the basic rule of governing. Which is: You need to have a sense of shared community, a mindset that will enable you to try to move a diverse and important state such as Virginia forward over the next four years. Circumstances may conspire to ruin your plans, indeed force you do what you really had not wanted to do. As Emerson said, events are in the saddle and they ride mankind. However, you judge campaigns by events they can control, which includes responding to stuff.
So a lot can happen in the remaining days. But as of right now, one thing is crystal clear: McAuliffe has outsmarted Cuccinelli at every turn in this campaign. The Cuccinelli Team complains about a double standard favoring Terry, but they refuse to realize they have made some unbelievable rookie mistakes. With that, here are the ten moves that got the 2013 GUV race to where it is today.
1. After losing the Democratic nomination in 2009, Terry set his sights on winning the 2013 nomination without a fight. He did it. But he did it WITHOUT CHANGING THE RULES as regards the LG and AG. He thought about it. Instead, he decided to let the primary process take its course and accept whatever ticket he would get. Smart move by T-Mac.
2. Cuccinelli decided he wanted to win the nomination without a fight. He had agreed to a primary against Bolling. But then he decided that he could win the nomination without a fight if the party junked the primary process and went instead with a convention. Bolling should have sued. I could have won him that case, if not in court then in the court of public opinion. But instead of fighting, Bolling decided to quit and become the point man in the anti-Cuccinelli posse. For some reason, the Cuccinelli Team made it easy for Bolling to become de facto part of Terry’s campaign by failing to hire all of Bolling’s key people, who as we know go to “high bid” as we say in politics. This is doubly strange, since they are talented folks who have won GUV races before. Dumb move by Ken.
3. Terry decided to back McDonnell’s transportation plan, even though it took about $3 billion from schools and spent them on roads. Super risky on many levels, especially since transportation per se has never actually been a voting issue in the final analysis for voters. But Terry clearly reasoned that Cuccinelli would oppose the plan — NOT ON EDUCATION GROUNDS, but on anti-tax grounds. Terry figured the tax issue always went against Democrats anyway (except this year, look at the polls, it ain’t helping Cuccinelli which is amazing). This move gave Terry a way to show bipartisanship, lock up the Post endorsement (since the paper had not been friendly to him), and win over big GOP players in Tidewater.
Here at 200-proof, we wrote at the time: Leaving yourself vulnerable on education struck us as way too risky. We had been writing about education being the key to 2013 for months. By forcing the choice between transportation vs. education, we felt we had been visionary in that regard. The die had been cast: you go pro-education which allowed you to be anti-tax, but still be pro-transportation, saying you supported roads but not at the expense of schools. Here at 200-proof, we thought it a no brainer, that McDonnell had actually handed the election to Terry.
BUT: Terry saw it differently and backed McDonnell’s play. Bold in our view, and apparently not too risky after all!
4. Cuccinelli proved why he is losing the election. He had a way to take over the education issue, which was key to George Allen’s leading the GOP back from its wipeouts in the 1980’s. But by refusing to make the pro-education play, Cuccinelli made clear that he lacks the kind of mindset that wins elections in Virginia. Cuccinelli clearly believes the schools don’t need this $3 billion. Instead, Cuccinelli said nothing about education, tried to be anti-tax as a candidate, but pro-McDonnell-plan (by helping him make it constitutional as AG). Cuccinelli was DEAD CANDIDATE WALKING at that point.
No need to list the other 6 major moves that have helped Terry and hurt Cuccinelli. It was over right there when Terry took a high risk and won the bet. This left Cuccinelli without a non-“social issue,” since Terry had already beaten him to the punch on jobs and others things. Cuccinelli had decided to wait until October and close with Obamacare, figuring he could ride Medicaid expansion and its effect on the budget for the closing 5 weeks. There is no other explanation for his campaign strategy to date. Look at the polls: Cuccinelli doesn’t have a single good issue. He conceded the issue part of the election by showing his education mindset.
Here at 200-proof, we still think Terry made a way too risky political play. But the evidence seems clear: As Vince Lombardi said, the game is won in your head, not on the gridiron. You need a winner’s mind set, and thus a winner’s plan. Anyone can block and tackle and run and pass. But you need a strategy to win in the end, just running plays isn’t enough.
Looking back, we at 200-proof would make the same play again according to the same strategy. We think Terry went “all in” with low cards, figuring he could bluff Cuccinelli. On an historic basis, we rate it one of the riskier yet successful bets in gubernatorial history. Indeed, we can not think of a riskier one that proved such a big winner. Terry got all the upside he wanted and suffered, as best we can tell, no downside. That is to say: He won the big pot, leaving Cuccinelli with no non-social issue, forcing the campaign onto ground where the AG is super weak.
Cuccinelli is counting on making a comeback using Obamacare and related issues. We shall see. There is a window of opportunity in theory, but only if the polls are wrong as to lack of GOP energy among their base voters. Here at 200-proof, we stick to what the facts show as best we can. And right now, they show that McAuliffe made the riskiest play of the campaign: he went “all in” right at the start, and like Andy Devine in “The Shawshank Redemption”, came out clean on the other side. We thought it way too risky as a 200-proof matter. But Terry appears to have pulled it off since the transportation vs. education issue has come and gone now.
Big win. Those are the moves that get you elected Governor. Those are the big, 200-proof plays that you do right in the opponents face – and they stand flatfooted as you slam dunk it. To mix sports metaphors, Terry proved he could adjust at the line of scrimmage and call an audible. In contrast, Cuccinelli and his team have shown no such ability. Instead, Cuccinelli has the plays written down on his sleeve and he is just calling them in order. Terry knows how to adjust, Cuccinelli how to dig in.
As the famous war time adage goes, a battle plan lasts until the first shot is fired.