by Paul Goldman
On a day when the respected Quinnipiac poll shows GOP GUV guy Ken Cuccinelli in a statistical dead-heat with favored Democrat Terry McAuliffe (a +6 Dem sample to boot if you want to believe this poll), the Republican gubernatorial candidate’s top strategy guy does “The LaCivita Again”: he is in the Washington Post leading a pointless, self-defeating public purging of Lt. Governor Bill Bolling from the Republican Party.
Except for LaCivita’s strategy of refusing to return the gifts to Jonnie Williams – which by the way the Q-poll shows has caused a huge spike Cuccinelli’s negatives (the AG’s negatives were a manageable 41% right as Terry’s ad tying Cuccinelli to Williams began reaching the required saturation levels and driving these negatives to a normally deadly 51%) – this insane consultant war against Bolling is the worst blunder yet.
Admittedly, LaCivita is swift-boating mad at his former friend, Bolling’s chief consultant Boyd “Show Me The Money” Marcus, getting top dollar to jump to Terry. But if political consultants were required to actually have an ethical code like lawyers or even used car salesman (they have to abide by federal laws preventing unethical sales tactics], then LaCivita as quoted in Post today would be grounds for malpractice action, if not debarment.
I ask: Precisely how does a Cuccinelli-consultant-led public war against Bolling, attempting to get him thrown out of the GOP (which technically isn’t possible under VA law anyway) in the middle of a GUV race help the beleaguered Attorney General right now?
Look at the Q-poll, or any other poll, or just use your friggin’ common sense: Cuccinelli is losing this campaign because Republicans are not rallying to his cause as it were. In the Q-poll, Cuccinelli is taking the worst beating in more than a generation among Democrats, with some evidence liberal to moderately liberal women are really eager to come to the polls and vote against him.
Indeed, the Q-poll reflects the big surprise of the 2013 election so far: the claim by pollsters that this is going to be the watershed year when Democratic turnout, as a percentage of the electorate, approaches presidential year levels in terms of the margin over self-identifying Republican ballot casters. The Q-poll, as indicated, has the Dem over GOP margin statistically the same as the big margin that gave Virginia to President Obama in 2012.
Indeed, the Q-poll shows that Cuccinelli – amazingly – is even among self-identified independents, which defies his internal image. Does this prove, as some suggest, that a percentage of normally GOP identifiers are hiding in the Indies column this year due to unhappiness with Reverend Jackson, and the Cantor-led GOP in Washington? The pollsters could help us out here if they would give us the independent vote in three parts, those independents who actually lead DEM or GOP on a normative basis, and those folks who say they are straight Indies.
BUT EITHER WAY: The Q-poll, along with others, shows that Cuccinelli’s BIG PROBLEM on a purely political basis is that HE CAN NOT RALLY HIS OWN PARTY FAITHFUL. Since the Q-poll doesn’t show a fatal bleed out of anti-Cuccinelli Republicans, then A WAR WITH BOLLING AT THIS STAGE IS AN ABSURD STRATEGY.
“But Paul” you counter “it is becoming evident that Bolling is doing all he can to help McAuliffe, hurt Cuccinelli, so what does Cuccinelli have to lose since he has to assume Bolling will back Terry publicly at some point despite promises to the contrary.”
Let’s assume, arguendo, this is true, let’s assume that Bolling is going to follow his guru Marcus into the Democratic camp, Terry has promised Bolling a cabinet job, it is clear Cuccinelli will not do that if he wins. In 2001, Republican LG John Hager sent signals to his folks to back Democrat Mark Warner after Hager lost the GOP GUV nod to a conservative GOP Attorney General. Hager got a cabinet job.
Meaning: We got the precedent. As for Bolling’s promise, I don’t figure that is worth a old Twinkie wrapper since Bolling blames Cuccinelli for breaking a promise not to run for GUV this year. In that respect, Bolling breaking his promise about 10 days before the election – claiming that he couldn’t stay quiet for the good of the Commonwealth – would be seen by the LG’s posse as poetic justice.
SO: If I were the Cuccinelli people, I would be basing my strategy on Bolling “coming out” and being the first LG in the state’s history to go ACDC on us, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” kind of thing. Okay, maybe not so cheap, but you get the drift here.
THUS I REPEAT; If you fear Bolling is going to jump ship, then the last thing you want to do is given him AN EXCUSE based on the fact his party kicked him out. If Bolling jumps, there is no reason right now for the public to believe he did it as a matter of principle. Except for the fawning members of the state’s editorial boards – who considered Bolling a right wing nut job until he became their favorite Republican this year – the GOP grass roots and others so inclined had no love lost for Bolling. HE WOULD HAVE BEEN CRUSHED IN A PRIMARY. Cuccinelli made the huge mistake, as did Earley in 2001, using the convention process to stack the process against Bolling. But then Bolling quit, he didn’t fight for anything.
Except for the media, who the heck is Bolling to THE VOTERS THAT CUCCINELLI NEEDS TO WIN?
Look at the polling: Bolling drew as much from Democrats as he did Republicans. Indeed, Bolling was getting around 13-15% percent of the vote: Robert Sarvis, the pro-druggie, education-destroying Libertarian is getting 7-10% in the polls. Hello!
Bolling has no constituency per se: rather, he is only useful as Exhibit # 1 in the case against Cuccinelli as a standard deviation or two outside the normative GOP ambit. Bolling can get massive publicity for that claim by backing Terry.
However, how credible is it when the record says that he has been promised a job and his top guru has jumped already for the money?
IN TRUTH. if LaCivita wasn’t so intent on thinking he was more important than his candidate, he would know what Democrats instinctively know, the polls show that voters are not all that impressed with what they see as the principled nature of any of the candidate’s for statewide office. They barely know four of the 6, and the two they do know have not impressed them all that much since they see the GUV campaign by an astounding 3-1 margin as being nothing but a negative, character-assassination fight: and we haven’t even hit the usually worst month, October’s advertising.
THIS IS THE ONLY REASON CUCCINELLI IS STILL STANDING.
Get a grip: How else does a guy with a 34%-51% negative image still have a statistical chance of winning? The Q-poll says Terry is 38%-38%, not great, but it will do for government work with a good closing campaign in this terrain.
Assume their images were reversed: Dr. Sabato would be calling this race as a GOP sweep over and done with.
My point: Image wise, the failure of Cuccinelli to give back the Williams gifts until his negatives hit 50% is, as I have written, doing “The LaCivita”, following a mindless strategy.
YET: Despite the highest negative, by far, of anyone who has ever been elected Governor, Cuccinelli has managed to avoided being politically killed by his own high command. It makes no sense to me, and as I say, the Q-poll showing it to be a statistical dead heat, with a + 6 DEM electorate, doesn’t compute.
But it does tell me this: the stuff in the Washington Post the other day about Terry saying he would veto any budget without the state going the full Monty on Obamacare/Medicaid, is potentially a lot bigger deal than it might otherwise be. Cuccinelli has no issue right now that can win him over voters who don’t much like him. Again: There are roughly 1/10 of the electorate which has a negative opinion of Cuccinelli but not a jelled view of Terry. That’s HUGE. It is a great cushion heading into the last weeks of the campaign.
Increasingly, Cuccinelli’s chances – to the extent there is a realistic one – is based on what I wrote months ago, someone figuring out a way of firing-up his lagging energy among even his own base of voters while improving his image among Independents, which are split right now between the candidates, and who don’t have a favorable view of Terry.
THAT IS NO EASY FEAT. Thus wasting your time attacking Bolling, having your top consultant engage in a GOP war IN ORDER TO GET TEA PARTY CLIENT’S NEXT YEAR, makes no sense.
Democrats love it and rightly so. As I say, a Bolling endorsement of Terry could backfire given that Bolling’s “moderate” image is totally a fantasy pushed by the media. He has no standing with Independents in this state despite two winning statewide elections. If he has a constituency, it is with Republicans. BUT IF HE TURNS ON CUCCINELLI FOR MCAULIFFE, it could produce a real GOP backlash since Bolling would have to provide some specific reasons.
Bolling has said it was a pro-life guy down the line, real conviction. There is thus no way he can credibly jump parties to back the Democrats without engaging the base of the GOP. Right now, this base ISN’T JUICED TO VOTE FOR CUCCINELLI.
Do Democrats really want Republicans to actually feel sympathy for Cuccinelli, to actually get guys like Governor Christie and others to figure backing Cuccinelli to counter turnout coat Bolling is win-win for their 2016 hopes?
FACT: The current narrative, the current state of the race favors Terry. It maybe be the Cuccinelli is in a statistical tie: that wouldn’t change my prediction of a DEM sweep.
As I have said, the threat to the sweep analysis is simple: Cuccinelli getting an issue that can change the key narrative, which is a pending watershed moment in the partisan makeup of a GUV year election. Why risk that?
Net, net: A Bolling endorsement of Terry is a double-edged sword because the LG is not a credible figure for such an ACDC conversion, thus there is a downside risk. If Terry thinks he can win with the current narrative, why would he ask Bolling?
And if thinks he needs it, then that says the polls are wrong and Cuccinelli is in better shape than is apparent. Thus, a Bolling endorsement move would only make sense if the polls show an up tick in GOP support for Cuccinelli. But in that case, why would Bolling help Terry, it could simply further fuel the anti-McAuliffe surge among GOP voters since this is the only reason for any such pro-Cuccinelli up tick.
Thus, for LaCivita to be leading a Cuccinelli-team effort to give Bolling a non-rat based excuse to jump ship can only hurt his candidate even if it helps his business.
More negative imagery for Cuccinelli cannot help him, indeed I think the Q-poll suggests Terry’s campaign may have maxed out the negatives against Cuccinelli.
If either candidate can “break through” with a positive image on a key issue, the poll says they could add some voters to their column. On that score, Terry’s image makes a positive case far easier to make.
“Doing the LaCivita” again, focusing on a pointless war with Bolling, doesn’t make statistical sense at this point if the Q-poll is correct, that for some reason, Cuccinelli still has a shot if he can really the GOP to turn out in numbers equitable to historic GUV year electorates.