by Paul Goldman
Every gubernatorial candidate has to dodge a certain number of “hot potato” issues imposed by Washington in a gubernatorial campaign. These issues are reduced to “sound bite” politics. Thus, we have the anti-coal issue and the anti-Obamacare issues popping up right now, as actions by the Obama Administration and the GOP majority in the House of Representatives boomerang around the Commonwealth.
This is the political game – like it, leave it, you got to play it as it lies. But any analysis has to reach the following conclusion: Terry’s position is better, as a matter of politics and principle, hands down. It is a win-win. Conversely, Cuccinelli has a better win-win play. But as usual, his campaign goes for the lose-lose strategy. See my article tomorrow in the Washington Post, which is actually online right now.
Politically speaking, the coal issue plays biggest in an area that has already swung big time from Democratic in years past to Republican today. I think Terry has the right view, although unpopular on the left and right from what I can tell. Yes, a fine line perhaps to walk in politics, that’s what a Governor has to do. I think he is being gubernatorial here. I reject the criticism.
So to the extent he needs to play dodge ball, I get that: at the same time, I see no reason to back down from his environmental policies as articulated. If it doesn’t sell in coal country, then so be it. As they say, it comes with the territory. Terry is fine where he is: if it costs him some votes, it costs him some votes. I like his play. On a purely 200-proof statistical basis, whatever he might lose do to GOP attacks is not part of any “winning” statistical scenario for a Democrat in Virginia. Yes, every vote counts, every Virginian needs a Governor who worries about his or her future. But Terry’s being responsible here, and Dems should have his back.
HOWEVER, as to Mr. Cuccinelli, the “shut down the government if the President refuses to defund Obamacare” Cruz control of Senator Ted Cruz threatens his candidacy, Texas style. Senator Ted Cruz is no Teddy Bear to Cuccinelli, not even a Miley Cyrus VMA performance. Cruz ain’t just twerling his behind at Cuccinelli, he is giving him the old Texas “kiss my grits” politics.
If the GOP in Washington gets blamed for shutting down the government, even someone who only cooks with a microwave knows the AG is cooked, unless something totally unpredictable happens in the remainder of October. The shutdown will boomerang around NOVA and Tidewater, and will by any analysis cost Cuccinelli votes he simply can’t afford to lose, given the GOP guv guy’s underdog status.
To be sure: I am assuming the GOP-controlled House of Repercussions gets blamed by Virginians for the shutdown mess. Sure, it’s theoretically possible the public will blame the President or the Democratic Senate. It’s also theoretically possible the moon is made of green cheese and Neil Armstrong couldn’t smell it through his space suit.
The point being: Even in our “bizarro” national political climate, the President has the right policy for the right reasons in this battle, and I am confident the people will see it that way. Give folks some credit. The President is right on this one. So are Senators Warner and Kaine. End of story. Meaning Ken Cuccinelli takes the far greater dodge ball risk by dodging questions regarding his view of the shutdown strategy. Why?
Only two things can happen: the government shuts down, or it doesn’t. SO WE ASK AT 200 PROOF: From Cuccinelli’s underdog position, what is his risk in calling on the GOP to avoid a shutdown and win some small modification of some Obamacare aspect which I think the President would be obligated to accept, or risk being seen as the one causing the shutdown? I can think of a couple of minor tweaks. Yes, it is “cya” thing for the House Republicans. Like this is new to politics?
Why is this the smart play? Again: If the GOP is blamed for the shutdown, Cuccinelli has to figure he loses big. If the Democrats are blamed, Cuccinelli gains. Both of these outcomes occur REGARDLESS of what Cuccinelli says or doesn’t say. But assume Cuccinelli sets himself as one of the voices calling for no shutdown, and that is the outcome. He then gets to posture himself as one of the few Republicans who took the middle ground of trying to govern in a responsible way. Therefore, taking the anti-shutdown, start-the-process-of-fixing-Obamacare tack is all upside to him. Plus, no one on the right can claim Cuccinelli, with his record, is “soft” on Obamacare!
If the GOP in Washington ultimately agrees with him, then how does that hurt him with his base vote? And if the GOP in Washington doesnn’t agree with him, at least he can say to the public “don’t blame me,” and hope it helps reduce his damage at the polls.
NET, NET: Dodge ball is one of those “labors of Hercules” a candidate has to do to get to be Governor. It tends to be lose-lose, so the winner is the guy who avoids the biggest hit. Terry’s situation on coal is easier, since the issue has a more regional and thus limited saliency. Cuccinelli faces the much tougher challenge, since a shutdown hits everyone in Virginia, especially in NOVA and Tidewater, both much bigger than the far Southwest Virginia.
Cuccinelli clearly wants to make Obamacare a big issue at the end. I get that. But the shutdown will suck up all the political oxygen for days. Once again, will Cuccinelli’s campaign be unable to figure out how to protect their “downside risk?” This already has happened with the Jonnie Williams gifts, with the mistake on Haynesworth, with the Chef’s trial, with the whole staying on as AG (which has been a net-net disaster).
In a campaign defined by negativity – by a 3-1 margin voters think both candidates have been hugely negative, a record number in almost any campaign ever run in America – the guy who can better protect his “downside risk” figures to win. This requires winning at dodge ball. There will be other dueling dodge ball issues. But right now, Terry has the lead and Cuccinelli the high risk of seeing his campaign skid into the ditch on Cruz control.