5 Lessons of the VA Gubernatorial Race

 As foreseen, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate, Terry McAuliffe defeated Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia Governor’s race by 2.4% or less than 60k votes.  Cuccinelli lost, but it is hard to say that anyone else would have done better under the circumstances.  The fact is that if establishment candidate, Bill Bolling had run, he may have gotten the airwaves, but he wouldn’t have gotten the base turnout support that benefited Bob McDonnell in 2009.  The Attorney General lost, but the primary reasons were money and scandal – not that he was too conservative.  I wouldn’t have been able to argue this had it been a ten point blowout.  But McAuliffe squeaked through which means any correction of a number of minor mistakes could have gotten the Attorney General there.  There are a few reasons why.

1.)    Fundraising

Conservatives must learn to work with the establishment in order to be able to compete at a financial level.  As much as 2010 had to do with the Tea Party, it owes much to the big spenders that raised and spent money on their behalf.  The donor class is a two-edged sword and Republican candidates need to focus on shoring up these guys.

This morning, stunning numbers are coming out.  Cuccinelli was outspent 4-1 by a Democratic fundraising machine.  The RNC spent $9 Million in 2009 compared to only $3 Million this time!  The Chamber of Commerce spent a Million in 2009 but none for the Attorney General!  The RGA tapered off is donations once the fall campaign got underway.

McAuliffe outraised Cuccinelli by $15 Million, not including lots of outside spending.  Money matters, almost every Virginia Republican would have had to fight the War on Women mantra, but you can’t fight television ads if you aren’t on television.  The extra $6 Million that the RNC withheld would have allowed Cuccinelli to go up on television where he essentially went off the air in Northern Virginia in the final two weeks.  That money could have likely turned or turned out 60k voters.

2.)    The down-ticket matters

The Republican Attorney General candidate, Mark Obenshain, has won the election, although the democrats are demanding a recount.  So while he has won, he needs to remain vigilant, we don’t need another Al Franken situation in Richmond.  But the Lieutenant Governor, E.W. Jackson weighed down the entire ticket.

The Lieutenant Governor does not have to be an attorney as the Attorney General does, and for that reason the position seems to have invited many less prepared Tea Party candidates that haven’t run for Commonwealth Attorney or state legislature before.  E.W. Jackson had a history of remarks that would not fly in the twenty-first century, a misspelled book cover and never seemed like a legitimate candidate.  With Ken Cuccinelli at the top of the ticket, republicans would have done better to have someone less apt to inspire emotions in the second slot, as we did in the third spot.

E.W. Jackson, gave credibility to the narrative that it was an extremist ticket.  The convention made this choice.  In the old-time presidential conventions, the convention voters attempted to balance the presidential nominee with a vice-presidential nominee that brought something else to the table.  But as we were used to a primary, the convention-goers got a little over zealous.  It is like they nominated Ted Cruz for president and then nominated Allen West for VEEP.  There was no balance of interests there and it dragged down the top candidate.  Balance the ticket!

3.)    We must play offense on abortion

McAuliffe played up the “war on women” issue to the same acclaim as Obama did last year.  He hit the Attorney General relentlessly with lies about how he wanted to restrict rights to contraceptives, but Cuccinelli didn’t properly respond.  First of all, there are no Virginia politicians who want to restrict contraception access.  Second of all, the Supreme Court has clearly ruled that states cannot restrict contraception.

No one believes that a Virginia statewide candidate should campaign on overruling Roe v. Wade.  But Republicans are pro-life and we can’t hide it.  We have tried.  Mitt Romney tried.  We can try to leave it on the backburner, but the problem is that when we allow democrats to make their case in a vacuum, they win by default.  It is akin to one party showing up for a court case, a default judgment is entered because the other party doesn’t present their case.  Republicans have to aggressively make the case that they want to protect women and care deeply about a culture of life without scaring women voters or not focusing on jobs.

4.)    Being conservative doesn’t make you a loser, establishment opposition does

Everyone thought that the Attorney General would lose by 5-10 points.  He didn’t.  He lost by less than 2.5% while facing a republican scandal, a third party spoiler, a massive fundraising disparity and the abandonment of republican officials all over the Commonwealth.  Even with that, he only lost by 55k votes.  No one else could have done what this man did on his limited resources, but he did it.  The true republican juggernaut to run is not a Bill Bolling where he may fundraise but has no base support, or a candidate that cannot compete financially, but both.

The Republican establishment really &$(#)@ up on this one.  The Attorney General, while occasionally partisan has governed responsibly and focused on the right issues, with limited attention given to ancillary topics.  He would have been good for business and growing the economy.

5.)    Beware the democrat spoiler

We already knew that the “Libertarian” third party candidate believes in an aggressive abortion agenda, Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion and the idea of GPS tracking to mirror fuel taxes in Virginia.  What we didn’t know is that a top Obama billionaire bundler paid the way for Mr. Sarvis to make it onto the ballot.  This guy was bankrolled by McAuliffe’s people because he was the key to defeating Ken Cuccinelli.  This was a brilliant stroke by democrats.  Yet, Sarvis was a fraud.  I’ve never met a libertarian who believed in expanding social programs.  But his hard-hitting attacks on the AG obviously had an effect as he pulled 7% of the vote.  Honestly, the lesson to be taken here is not so much stop the third party, as much as it is fundraising.  Drown him out.  We should have had the money to expose him much earlier, but VA republicans just didn’t have the resources.

Establishment republicans believed that if they sat on their hands, they could take Ken Cuccinelli down and wash their hands of conservatives for awhile.  They failed and I wasn’t sure that they would.  Instead, they demonstrated the strength of conservatives with little money, little national backing and a lot of turncoat endorsements for the democrat.

Some of Cuccinelli’s past statements didn’t help win this election, but they pale in comparison to the money issue and the agenda of the Establishment.