By Paul Goldman
With billionaire Mike Bloomberg being invited to go “all-in” to support what the NRA and rural Virginia will paint as an “anti-gun” agenda, we at 200-proof believe the 2013 election goes from amazing to downright historic. In theory, the 3-way nature of the race might be the reason McAuliffe risks looking like he is going “left” at the end (while Cuccinelli is going hard “right” at the end). As the person most responsible for the Wilder-Warner model used by the only successful GUV candidates in the last generation (Kaine basically took the best aspects of both efforts and added his unique personal appeal at the end debunking the Kilgore death penalty close), we at 200-proof can say this: the McAuliffe model is based on a different read of how you get the most votes in a Virginia GUV election, at least this year.
Again, it could be the presence of Sarvis, and a decision that the third-party joke candidate is going to take, on a net basis, a few points of independent-type folks who might otherwise have gone for Cuccinelli. Thus, this would mean that Sarvis isn’t going to collapse; he can get 6-8% if not more: and thus 47% wins.
Under that scenario, the polls make the following clear: McAuliffe can win with a solid Dem GOTV effort that makes the electorate a few more points Dem over GOP, as opposed to the +4 GOP margin in 2009. With Cuccinelli the most unpopular GOP GUV guy among Democrats EVER, this means McAuliffe can win by just doing what the polls say can happen – ride a good Dem turnout to victory. Under these assumptions, McAuliffe doesn’t need the traditional swing, independent voters thought to decide Virginia elections.
Why not? Because those voters aren’t available to Cuccinelli this year in the numbers needed to win under that scenario. Cuccinelli’s strategy – also historic, but from the right side of the game – seems to likewise suggest closing with the usual pitch to less partisan, more middle-of-the-road voters is likewise not an option for him.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Bill Clinton would not have been asked to make a 3-day GOTV tour of the state in the past, even if he had his high favorable rating. Why not? Because on a net, net basis, he has to pitch the whole Dem ticket, and this could be seen as perhaps rousing the sleeping conservative voters who show little energy for Cuccinelli. To be sure, the former President has a lot of cover with independents, but he isn’t coming to Virginia to convince them — the persuasion message is over in that regard. Clinton is here to give a big GOTV message to Democrats.
Any doubts in that regard are removed by Mayor Bloomberg being asked in to spend huge sums backing up McAuliffe’s stance on the gun issue. The Wilder-Warner model is geared at not arousing the NRA and the GOP rural, small-town base into thinking that they there is a culture war going on, and they had best vote. A loss in the rural areas is fine in that model, as long as it is within certain parameters. The trouble with the Deeds strategy is that his campaign misread the Wilder-Warner model, and thought they could get a bigger vote in “Deeds Country.” NOT! The trick is avoiding a tidal wave in those “downstate” areas, as they might say in Illinois.
The whole “gun control” label is misreading for sure, but political shorthand is what it is. If you spend your campaign complaining, it is a waste. Better to state your views and trust the voters. But Bloomberg is a special case, since he has feuded openly with Governor McDonnell and other Republicans as the Northern carpetbagger coming to Virginia to impose his values on us. That is to say: Bloomberg’s presence risks turning the thing into a culture issue, not a gun issue.
The Wilder-Warner model would have never allowed Bloomberg in. Indeed, it would likely again have kept Clinton out too. Today, though, NOVA DICTATES STATE POLITICS – and the “gun control” message has always polled well in NOVA generally, and with many suburban women around the state.
If you assume – and it is good assumption – that Democrats have actually hit close to bottom in rural, small-town GOP Virginia, than a more pro “gun control” message might have more upside than downside, all other things being equal. This is especially true if you assume that 47% wins.
CUCCINELLI GOES RIGHT
Clearly, the Cuccinelli campaign has abandoned the Allen-Gilmore-McDonnell model of ending the campaign as close to the middle as possible. In the end, they were going for more independent voters; they weren’t running a “double down” on the base closing message. The GOP doesn’t have a Bill Clinton to carry the GOTV torch. So instead, Cuccinelli’s campaign has been hosting every person from another state it thinks might appeal to some part of their conservative base. Again, the Cuccinelli campaign is closing with a GOTV message, not a persuasion message. This seems consistent with their view of low turnout and polling showing their voters more likely to be true believers than lukewarm.
We at 200-proof don’t judge, we just call the action on the field. Back when McAuliffe got nominated, he was expected to follow the Wilder-Warner model, run as the moderate business dude, no drama on the cultural issues, yada, yada, yada. This seemed especially attractive against Cuccinelli. We predicted, while others were saying Cuccinelli was a “sure” winner, that it would produce a Democratic sweep.
But this is clearly not the strategy here at the close, when you bring Bloomberg into the state with such a huge TV presence. There is no way to do this without accepting the risk that it makes a culture issue bigger at the end, contrary to the Wilder-Warner model. Thus, a new model, a more regional model, based on the fact that NOVA is now so big, that the “gun” issue may have indeed flipped, that it is better on a net-net basis to drive Dem GOTV and persuade independent leaning Republicans in NOVA toward Terry than downstaters toward Ken.
If you believe Dems have hit bottom in those areas anyway, then it is seen as a pure upside play. It didn’t work for Mary Sue Terry in 1993, but that was a lifetime ago. Deeds got crushed in rural “Deeds country” in 2009, so you really don’t have much hope of any gains there, but also little fear of hurtful losses either.
BOTTOM LINE: As we have previously written, Terry’s strategy has been a lot edgier on key issues than the Wilder-Warner model would advise. Now, with a Clinton GOTV march and a Bloomberg TV buy, it is time to call this an historic election by any measure, two-way, three-way, whatever. This is doubly true since Allen-Gilmore-McDonnell would have moved toward the middle in response. But Cuccinelli has instead gone hard the other way for weeks now, and is going even harder toward a GOTV base message, not a pitch to persuade independents.
With, again, the caveat that we could be wrong as to the Sarvis effect on all these strategy calculations, it seems to us at 200-proof that 2013 is now an historic election. What to look for in our view: watch the AG race. Cuccinelli and Jackson are gone. But this history being made has to also play out at the Attorney General level.
Bloomberg, more than his gun views, is a lightning rod. McDonnell has tangled with the New York billionaire, telling him to stay out of Virginia. In years past, this could have been used to make Bloomberg’s presence less about guns and more about a cultural divide that helps the GOP or at least used too. McAuliffe’s strategy, as we pointed out recently, is far bolder in historic terms than the media has written. The Clinton/Bloomberg tandem is just further proof of our thesis.
If our sweep prediction holds, then 2013 could be an historic re-figuring of Virginia politics due to NOVA growth reaching a political tipping point. The Sarvis factor will make it harder to determine in terms of hard proof. But gut wise, it does seem to have all that potential if Democrats sweep, which is how it would come down based on all trend lines today.