by Paul Goldman
Will the GOP obsession with defunding “Obamacare” deflate a puzzling boomlet for Ken Cuccinelli, who should be DCA – Dead Candidate Walking – about now? At 200-Proof Politics, we play like it lies; we don’t judge, we just report. Right now, the evidence is clear: despite a massive anti-Cuccinelli TV barrage from Terry’s campaign, and months of constant negative Cuccinelli stores from the mainstream media (caused in large measure by an incompetent campaign strategy), the beleaguered GOP GUV guy isn’t DCA yet. In fact, the latest poll from a credible organization (Quinnipiac, not Roanoke) actually shows Cuccinelli LEADING if you posit a normative GOP turnout in a non-presidential statewide election year. Say what?
None of this changes my Democratic “sweep” prediction, although the limb is lonely right now. But the stats are the stats: despite the Q-poll internals favoring Terry, the Democratic GUV guy has not “sealed the deal,” as they say. I thought this thing could be over by September 15th if Cuccinelli didn’t have a good push back issue. But he has gotten lucky on other fronts: the trial of the ex-chef at the Mansion now off the table; the mess over the otherwise meaningless NOVA Tech PAC endorsement being made into some major PR thing by Democratic overreaction; the fact the independents seem to be souring on everyone; and the Q-poll suggesting GOP loyalists are willing to vote for Cuccinelli, even though they have a negative view of him.
Still, my middle-of-September rule only applies in blowout type situations, and Democrats have only had that one time (1985) in the modern Virginia gubernatorial race era. SO: While a comfortable Terry win is still there in the Q-poll numbers if his campaign does it right, perhaps the lucky breaks going Cuccinelli’s way will not just be a few weeks reprieve, but rather omens that he could make a real horse race of it going into election day.
Mitt Romney came back from DCA to rally, only to lose close in Virginia. In the end, a win is a win, but at this stage of the game, margin matters in the narrative. So does luck. And while Cuccinelli got a few breaks in recent days, it is also clear that the looming fight over Obamacare, and an increasingly likely government shutdown (pushed by some of Cuccinelli’s top Tea Party allies and ideological compatriots), threaten to shut down Ken Cuccinelli’s brief uptick.
I still hold to my view, lonely as it may be: Obamacare, which is tied to Medicaid expansion, should be a net-net PLUS issue for Cuccinelli in the Governor’s race. That he can’t seem to make it work for him is mind-boggling to me. The voters he needs to win are not big fans of Obamacare. In politics, when you are explaining, you are losing: and like it or not, Cuccinelli can make some plausible – for political purposes – charges that force McAuliffe into the “explaining” mode.
BUT: A government shutdown will be huge news in NOVA. It is difficult to see how any “spin” can turn this into a plus for the GOP in NOVA. Meaning: talk about a Tea Party-led government shutdown is already eating away at Ken Cuccinelli’s apparent boomlet. In fact, it might already have killed it. Logically, the President’s slumping numbers on Syria played a role in any Cuccinelli uptick and in rallying Republicans to a protest vote. The public isn’t giving the President credit for anything in Syria yet.
Bottom line: Obama is going to win a government shutdown fight. This takes the focus from Syria and puts it back on a playing field far weaker for the GOP. This has to hurt Cuccinelli, at the margins at least. A full-fledged government shutdown, caused by the Tea Party’s hard line on Obamacare and other issues, will cost Cuccinelli. Since the polls show his chances are iffy at best right now, this could make him DCA. Whatever extra energy it might give to GOP loyalists will be matched with equal (or greater) energy from Dems.
Given how this campaign has gone, it must be assumed that Cuccinelli held back on his biggest selling point – the first AG to sue over Obamacare – to align with the October 1 start for signing up with the health care exchanges. What else makes sense? But come October 1, the big news very well could be the Tea Party-led shutdown of the government, forcing federal employees in NOVA to stay home (possibly without pay?). That will ripple through the whole NOVA economy and social media. It is all downside for Cuccinelli as I see it, especially given that he brags that he was “Tea Party before the Tea Party.”
Truth is, all other things being equal, Cuccinelli would have been better off with a nasty trial of the ex-chef than with a nasty “your momma” finger-pointing shutdown of Uncle Sam. But since a shutdown is bad national politics for Republicans, I will be amazed if they go that route after seeing the outcome of the 1995 shutdown that sealed re-election for a then very weak Bill Clinton.
The House has to play its games to satisfy the base. But in the end, do they dare defy common sense? To the extent the public believes they will, Cuccinelli’s uptick may have already evaporated and bigger downside awaits.