by Paul Goldman
Seemingly a political eternity ago (these campaigns are long), I wrote that a candidate like GOP presumptive nominee Ken Cuccinelli might no longer be electable in Virginia. I based that observation on exit poll data (see below) from the 2009 Deeds vs. McDonnell race. I got the expected yada, yada, yada in email, texts, and conversations over the next few weeks. Moreover, at the time, some of us were trying to get AG Cuccinelli to back certain changes in the state election laws removing constitutionally flawed denials of certain political rights to candidates and voters.
So people thought I was being…well…a little too provocative. But my analysis had not the hint of anything personal, and I knew the AG’s staff reads my stuff, so they would see the analysis as being what we do at 200-proof, on TV regularly in Richmond, for national web sites and newspapers.
We don’t judge right or wrong, issue wise or personal traits: we leave that to the “gurus” – the really smart people. We just call it like we see it. And if you studied the 2009 exit poll, something seemed self-evident if you made A FEW REASONABLE ASSUMPTIONS.
1. Logic suggested that the 2009 exit poll should have caught the GOP wave AT THE CREST. The McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli, three-way landslide set the record; there had never been such a complete up-and-down-the-ballot wipeout in the modern two-party era in Virginia. So at 200-proof, we figured: this has to be, as Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt might say, “as good as it gets.”
2. The exit poll found McDonnell winning female voters by 54%-46%, an 8-point difference. Exit polls, of course, have their own margin of error. So in theory the actual difference could have been somewhat narrower or wider. But +8 seemed a good relative barometer.
3. Ergo, at the TOP OF THE WAVE, the GOP had a decent but not overwhelming margin with women. Moreover, among self-identified “working women,” the two candidates were basically dead even.
4. Meaning that the roughly 70% of women self-identifying as in a different statistical category accounted for the entire McDonnell female voter margin. He carried this group 60%-40%, or roughly the size of his overall statewide victory margin.
5. Moreover, when you look at the rest of the exit poll, it is clear that McDonnell did better than Republicans invariably do in Virginia among young women and higher income, so-called “soccer moms.”
6. Therefore, if you could get a 1989-type situation, where you could isolate the election on women’s issues, then logic suggested it would be impossible for any GOP GUV candidate, especially one with Cuccinelli’s dubious female-issues resume, to get anywhere near the McDonnell 2009 numbers UNDER ANY FORSEEABLE CIRCUMSTANCES.
7. As the previous point implies, a guy like Cuccinelli, who has gone out of his way to raise concerns among THESE VERY FEMALE VOTERS, would on paper at least be the easiest opponent for a competent Democratic GUV campaign to turn politically radioactive on women’s issues.
8. Most importantly, the exit polls and other data suggested to us at 200-proof a new dynamic, namely that male voters were becoming more attuned to seeing women’s issues from the female voters’ perspective. This was not true a generation ago. But it is true now, meaning it allows candidates a greater freedom in how to play these issues in terms of winning an election.
9. Taking #1-#8 above collectively, it suggests that NO CREDIBLE DEMOCRATIC GUV CANDIDATE could possibly lose the female vote in the 2013 election against even the allegedly “moderate” Bill Bolling. Carried out further mathematically, we at 200-proof therefore concluded that against Cuccinelli, there was no way any credible Dem candidate would fail to win the female vote by at least a 54%-46% margin – thus a complete reversal – in 2013, even assuming the SAME ELECTORATE.
10. However, there seemed no way for the 2009 electorate, as captured by the exit poll, to be replicated in 2013. Why not? As we read the polls and remembered the election, the key driver on the GOP side had been an anti-Obama fervor of extreme proportions. This drove, among other things, a very strong turnout from self-identified Evangelical/Born-Again voters in the exit survey.
11. Thus, that +4 Republican over Democrat turnout margin (37%-33%, with those not choosing either party making up the rest) couldn’t be replicated in 2013, because there simply wasn’t going to be the same anti-Obama fervor in 2013. It just wasn’t there, for the same reason the pro-Obama fervor had not been the same in 2012 as compared to 2008. These types of energy levels generally only happen one time.
12. Accordingly, 200-proof assumed the 2013 electorate would be roughly a partisan tie for statistical analysis. This means women will outnumber men by at least + 4%, perhaps a tad more.
13. Ergo, it seemed logical that unless Cuccinelli truly understood his vulnerability on the women’s vote, he would lose the female voter by at least 10 points (45%-55%), and it could approach 16 points (42%-58%) against any COMPETENT DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN.
14. Cuccinelli had hired Chris LaCivita as his key campaign strategy guy. With all due respect, Chris is not the guy you hire if you intend to run a female-voter oriented campaign. That is simply not his thing. Moreover, he has ZERO experience actually running a GUV race in Virginia or elsewhere. His reputation is built on allegedly being the brains behind the so-called “Swiftboating” of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election over his military record. That’s it.
15. Everyone familiar with Virginia GUV politics knew Bolling would not run as a third-party candidate, because he simply is a myth in his own mind. He is too lazy. Moreover, he would lose badly.
16. Accordingly, for reasons #1-#15 above, you had to figure that 2013 would be the year when the female vote would finally become the defining statistical marker for Democrats running for Governor. Wilder, Warner and Kaine all won due to the female vote. But strategically, the politics of the state were such as to require a different spin on female issues from a strategy point of view. Warner and then Kaine ran on traditional budget, tax, and governing issues by and large.
17. Since Wilder’s election is historic in terms of turnout on all sides, it simply isn’t a good model to use for any other elections.
Therefore, at 200-proof, we considered the following question: If Cuccinelli was going to lose the female vote by at least 10 points and possibly as high as 16 points, could he mathematically win the race? In 2009, McDonnell carried the men by 62%-37% (rounding makes it less than 100%). Since we considered 2009 to be the CREST, then deductively NO GOP candidate in 2013 could get a 25 point spread among men even IF the same overall DEM-GOP-INDEPENDENT electorate mix was possible.
Statistical analysis suggested Cuccinelli, if all things went right for him, could get as high as 58%-42%, which admittedly is +16, close to the McDonnell number when you consider polling margins of error. But again: There was no way in 2013 to replicate the 2009 electorate in the opinion of 200-proof.
That is why we said: Terry McAuliffe might be making the “steal” of a lifetime, essentially being handed the Governorship of Virginia without any fight from all those in the party who – and there are legions – want to be Governor. And in turn, he could lead a sweep, meaning the next LG and AG would likely be the party’s nominees for AG in the foreseeable future. We said the other GUV wannabees might regret giving Terry a sure bet (presuming, as we did, he would run a competent campaign; he actually has run a deceptively clever campaign, but that is for another column).
Fast forward to today. The latest Q-Poll shows that Cuccinelli, as in the other polls, has done precisely what I’ve written about previously. Namely, he’s failed – along with Mr. LaCivita – to truly appreciate his problem with Republicans and women voters in Virginia. What is so ironic is that the Q-Poll shows that the men of Virginia actually “get it” as well as the women. Except for the men in the Cuccinelli campaign, that is!
In hindsight, we at 200-proof may have overstated a bit the ability of Democrats to get female voters in a normative election. Thus, while the Q-Poll and others indicate a +16 is even low right now in a two-way race, we think the polls could tighten in that regard by election day and also, the Cuccinelli campaign surely can’t stay as clueless on female politics for the closing weeks.
Yet, the basic watershed nature of 2013, as we suggested, seems very possible: an overwhelming female rejection of Cuccinelli in a way that expands the power of issues first harnessed by Wilder in 1989 and then Clinton in 1992. So much so that the term “women’s issues,” while useful for political shorthand, misses the larger point. These are now governing issues, for men and for women both, and partisan politics perhaps previously tolerated will be tolerated no more, at least if you want to be elected Governor of Virginia.
No one asked Mr. Cuccinelli to change his personal views, or to stop advocating them as Governor. No one is attacking his religious views either. But both he and his campaign utterly failed to appreciate the “intolerant” vibe emanating from his GUV effort this year. They blame it on the media, on being outspent by the “evil” McAuliffe campaign, yada, yada, yada. But the statistics don’t lie: the rejection of this type of politics has been building in Virginia for a generation at the GUV level where they are visible to voters as compared to down ballot races.
The Q-Poll is just the latest make clear what the statistics indicated to 200-proof way back: this would be the year when the GOP guv guy would need a full-on response to the issues of concern to women. As we wrote, no one seen as wanting to be Governor for the primary purpose of implementing a conservative social agenda has ever been elected in Virginia. This may work in Deep South states, but not in Virginia in the 21st century. Indeed, the polls suggest that even self-identified Evangelical/Born-Again Christians aren’t all that revved up vote this year, despite Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson being on the ballot.
All that being said, we at 200-proof do have some concern about our Sweep prediction. Due to the way down ballot elections are “covered” (NOT!) by the news media these days, it seems Senator Obenshain has arrived for the final sprint in a lot better shape than seemed possible a few months ago. He has a storied name in Republican party circles. With McAuliffe and Northam in strong positions, Democrats need to seriously consider the risks vs. rewards of concentrating somewhat more on helping Mark Herring.
In theory, the statistical analysis suggesting that this was the year for a female pro-Democratic vote carrying the day implies it should go all the way down ballot, given GOP party politics. But in the “fog of war,” as the saying goes, things get lost.
Democrats have to decide shortly whether to go “all-in” for Herring. It seems like a no-brainer here at 200-proof. But such efforts are actually rare in Virginia politics on both sides. The most plausible scenario is still the 1981 DEM sweep: comfortable for Governor, big win for LG, and squeaker victory for AG. A win is a win. But a bigger win for Herring would make the capital letter “W” in “Watershed” visible across the country.