When you lose a winnable election by three points there will certainly be some second guessing and the finger-point often begins while the votes are still being counted. The 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia is no different. Despite leading in polls throughout the spring, Ken Cuccinelli fell behind in the summer and never recovered. His poll numbers hit rock-bottom during the government shutdown before a strong push right before the election made the race competitive. The blame for the loss goes to three groups.
The GOP finance committees – particularly the RNC – did a lousy job of supporting Cuccinelli. While you can argue that deserting him in the middle of October with his poll deficit nearing double-digits made prudent financial sense, Republican campaign groups were lagging in their support throughout the campaign. The influx of money would have been particularly useful during the summer to negatively define McAuliffe.
Particularly harmful to Cuccinelli were the Virginia Republicans like Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and Virginia Beach Mayor Willie Sessoms who refused to endorse Cuccinelli (in Sessoms case he actually endorsed McAuliffe). This played perfectly into McAuliffe’s narrative that Cuccinelli was too extreme for Virginia. The message was clear. If moderate leaders in his own state refused to endorse him then why should anyone near the center consider voting for him?
Others in the GOP establishment who did Cuccinelli no favors were Chris Christie who refused to campaign for Cuccinelli, George Will who wrote a very favorable op-ed supporting Libertarian spoiler Robert Sarvis, and the Chamber of Commerce who did not support Cuccinelli’s campaign. The Chamber of Commerce’s refusal to enter the race signalled to business leaders that McAuliffe may be the better candidate on the issue, re-enforcing McAuliffe’s pro-business message.
The Tea Party
Starting on October 1, the Cuccinelli campaign could have swung their full attention towards Obamacare. The narrative would have changed from McAuliffe’s “war on women” campaign and focused on McAuliffe’s plan to expand Medicaid and Medicare. Instead the government shutdown forced Cuccinelli into an awkward position between the Tea Party and the hundreds of thousand of Virginia voters who were now in danger of losing their paychecks.
Voters affected by the shutdown punished Cuccinelli. While a nearly even number blamed President Obama as blamed Republicans, nearly a third of voters said the shutdown affected their household. These voters went to McAuliffe by 19%. Also, while Cuccinelli out-performed Mitt Romney in most of the state, he failed to meet Romney’s numbers in the densely populated Fairfax County, a hub for Federal employees.
The Cuccinelli Campaign
Cuccinelli ran a campaign paralyzed by fear. He also just missed some really basic campaign steps. Conservative groups reported on Election Day that Libertarian Robert Sarvis got his seed money from a Democratic bundler. The problem is this $150,000 donation was made in January 2013. Apparently, no one bothered to do their due diligence on Sarvis. Cuccinelli’s folk should have used this information to destroy the Sarvis campaign before it even got off the ground.
The Cuccinelli campaign also failed to define Terry McAuliffe. There is a lot of negative material to work with. When a liberal fundraiser from New York with a history of ethical controversies is your opponent, one would think the Cuccinelli folks could have developed a consistent negative message.
Finally, exit polls show that current Governor Bob McDonnell is still fairly popular. Cuccinelli’a choice to ignore McDonnell after the gift scandal was a poor one. The exit polls in Virginia demonstrate that voters were able to delineate McDonnell’s successful economic records from his questionable acceptance of gifts from donors. Cuccinelli could have simply vowed to continue the successful economic policies that McDonnell put into place.
The spin on the election is difficult to decipher. Is it a big deal for Democrats given the historic nature of the Democrat’s win and McAuliffe’s flaws? Or should Republicans be encouraged that a very socially conservative candidate nearly won a major election in a battleground state despite being significantly outspent in a difficult political environment. Spin aside, this was a winnable election where all parts of the Republican party contributed to the loss.
While it is true that polls measure the attitudes of their respondents, the most important goal is to pick the correct sample. This is a much more difficult task in low turnout, off-year election like this year’s race for governor in Virginia. Depending on the electorate, there are three potential outcomes for Virginia’s gubernatorial election.
McAuliffe solid victory (5-9 points)
This is most commonly predicted outcome by recent polls. Of the October polls listed on Real Clear Politics all but five fall within this range. These polls tend to predict that Republican turnout will be weak, Republicans will not be consolidated behind Cuccinelli and Independent will lean slightly towards McAuliffe. Some pollsters in this group have also been in the extreme range. Rasmussen for example gave McAuliffe a 17-point lead, before their last survey narrowed the margin to seven. Quinnipiac on the other hand polled the race as a four-point lead for McAuliffe –dropping to two when Sarvis was excluded – before returning to a six point lead for McAuliffe with his lead actually extending to seven without Sarvis. The two Quinnipiac polls had a seven-point difference in party identification.
McAuliffe wins a narrow victory/recount scenario
This outcome is less likely than a solid McAullife victory. Polling by Emerson College, Wenzel Strategies, and Quinnipiac (10/22-10/28) all showed the race within the margin of error. Hampton University narrowed the race to a mere one point lead for McAuliffe when Sarvis was excluded.
Many Republicans believe they can significantly exceed polling expectations in Virginia because the predicted very low-turnout should benefit their candidate. Polling also shows that Cuccinelli has a significant lead in voters who actually support their candidate as opposed to voters who are only voting against the other candidate. This is usually a good turnout indicator.
Another point for the “close race” argument is the lagging among Republicans in polls. Typically, fewer partisans defect than expected. If Cuccinelli is able to win 90% of Republican voters (as opposed to the high 70s to 85 percent he is averaging) he would improve his stand by a couple of points. McAuliffe on the other hand is already polling well over 90% with Democratic voters.
McAuliffe wins in a landslide (10 or more points)
This is probably the least likely to occur although three October surveys have given McAuliffe double digit leads. Again, these surveys show erosion and apathy among Republican voters. Independents also leaned more heavily towards McAuliffe.
The bottom line is that the polls generally agree that turnout will not be nearly as favorable for Republicans as it was in 2009. They also agree that Republicans will not unified and independents are far more hostile towards their candidate this year. While the GOP may very well outperform the polls, a seven point swing from the polling average to the electoral result is highly unlikely. Although it would give every underdog going into Election Day something to talk about for years to come.
There has been a wild divergence in the polls over the last month. In the past week alone, Terry McAuliffe lost 10 points in one poll while gaining 10 points in another. Polling conducted by Quinnipiac, Hampton, and Wenzel Strategies suggest the race could very be close – especially if Sarvis supporters desert their candidate. However, Roanoke – a poll which had been the most favorable to Cuccinelli – gave McAuliffe a 15 point lead. The Washington Post also has McAuliffe leading by double digits.
McAuliffe has consistently out raised Cuccinelli and October was no different. Total cash raised is now approaching a 2/1 advantage for McAuliffe.
The one area where Cuccinelli has been flourishing is social media. During each update Cuccinelli has added more “likes” on Facebook and more followers on Twitter than McAuliffe. Cuccinelli now has a 3/1 advantage in Facebook “likes” over McAuliffe. Not only does Cuccinelli have more people “liking” him, but his network appears to be more active than McAuliffe’s.
Polls (RCP average McAuliffe +8.5)
Quinnipiac – McAullife 45, Cuccinelli 41
Rasmussen – McAuliffe 43, Cuccinelli 36
Washington Post – McAuliffe 51, Cuccinelli 39
NBC/Marist – McAuliffe 46, Cucinelli 38
Roanoke - McAuliffe 48, Cuccinelli 33
Hampton University – McAuliffe 42, Cuccinelli 36
Christopher Newport University – McAuliffe 46, Cuccinelli 39
Facebook likes (since last update)
Cuccinelli – 154,791 (+13,443)
McAuliffe – 50,581 (+2,977)
Cuccinelli – 15,454 (+1,739)
McAuliffe – 13,060 (+1,352)
Fundraising as of 8/31/2013
Cuccinelli – Raised $19,729,757; On hand - $604,163
McAuliffe – Raised – $34,838,441; On hand - $1,615,521
Virginians are getting ready to elect former DNC Chairman and fundraiser extraordinaire Terry McAuliffe as governor. Polling thus far has shown two consistent themes explaining McAuliffe’s lead. Republicans are not going to show up at the polls and the ones who are going to show up have not solidified behind their candidate, Ken Cuccinelli.
While on average Cuccinelli is trailing by nine points, there has been a ten-point change in the party identification projection when compared with the 2009 electorate that gave Bob McDonnell a landslide win. Among the decreased ranks of Republicans, Cuccinelli is only attracting on average 80% of their vote, while McAuliffe is holding over 90% of Democrats.
A recent Old Dominion poll, which also has McAuliffe leading by seven points, predicts an electorate that would make it difficult for any Republican – let alone one as conservative as Cuccinelli – to win. According to Old Dominion, the 2013 Virginia electorate will in many ways look like a California electorate. These Virginian projected voters have the following views (Yes/No):
- Human activity is a major factor in climate change – 63/35
- Support the DREAM Act – 75/22
- Support pro-choice legislation/pro-choice legislation – 56/38
- Support Gay marriage – 52/44
- Support Obamacare– 49/44
- Support Medicaid expansion – 65/29
- Support increased tolls to pay for transportation – 59/38
- Support cutting personal income taxes/ Keep taxes the same or increase – 31/67
The state electorate as polled by Old Dominion is not only liberal on social issues, but fiscal issues as well. They actually support Obamacare, when even the Virginia electorate that re-elected President Obama told exit pollsters that they wanted Obamacare at least partially repealed.
The deterioration of support for Cuccinelli should be of concern to Republicans nationwide. The backlash appears to be at least in part “revenge of the moderates” as some in the center-right wing of the Virginia state party revolted after they believed the state nominating convention was rigged to favor Tea Party candidates. Particularly harmful was the lack of an endorsement from Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (the one high ranking Republican not involved in scandal). Republican mayor Willie Sessoms in the key city of Virginia Beach actually outright endorsed McAuliffe.
The GOP now appears to be facing challenges from both sides of their own party. Tea Partiers will desert “establishment” candidates for not being conservative or forceful enough while moderates will abandon candidates they believe are too far out of the mainstream. This trend does not bode well for the GOP moving ahead to the 2014 mid-term elections.
Despite questions about Mitt Romney’s performance as a candidate in 2012, the ultimate reason the GOP lost was that 54% of voters approved of Obama’s job performance and 46% thought the country was on the right track. Both numbers were way considerably outside of any polling ranges. Forget changing demographics (at least for the next ten years). Democrats are winning right now because they are showing up while Republicans are sitting at home griping about their party’s “flawed” candidate.
Chris Christie (R) v. Barbara Buono (D)
The New Jersey gubernatorial election has been over since Chris Christie aptly handled the response to Hurricane Sandy. Following the 2012 Presidential election, Christie has maintained at least a 20 point lead. His opponent, Barbara Buono is a veteran of the New Jersey legislature. Given Christie’s popularity, Buono has struggled to gain traction and has been running somewhat of an outsider’s campaign despite New Jersey’s natural tilt in her direction.
Christie pros - Despite being a Republican in a blue state, Christie’s personality fits well with New Jersey. Over the past four years he has done a good job of avoiding wedge issues while emphasizing education and business development. His leadership rating for handling Sandy was off the charts.
Buono pros - Veteran of the New Jersey Assembly and Senate. Should have a decent in-state network. Slightly left, but still closer than Christie to New Jersey voters ideologically.
Christie cons - National ambitions threaten his commitment after 2014. May be more interested in wooing Republican primary voters than governing New Jersey.
Buono cons - Not a dynamic personality (especially when compared to Christie). While struggling to gain traction against Christie, Buono has fought him from the outside, allowing Christie to appear as the non-partisnan executive while she sounds increasingly ideologically driven.
Polls (RCP average Christie +27.2)
Christie – 122,215
Buono – 37,243 (+2,796)
Christie – 28,873 (combined accounts)
Buono – 6,929
Prediction: Strong advantage Christie
They say that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but margin of victory will play a large part in interpreting the outcome of today’s special election for the United State Senate seat in New Jersey vacated by the death of Frank Lautenberg.
The special election was supposed to be a coronation for Cory Booker the Democratic mayer of New Jersey. Unfortunately for Booker he hit a few bumps on his jump to the national stage.
Controversy over text messages, his place of residence, ambiguous statements about his sexual orientation, and the general performance of Newark under his control put a solid dent into Booker’s poll numbers and brought Lonegan to national prominence.
Despite trailing by 25 points for much of September, Lonegan has pulled to within 14 points in the Real Clear Politics average. The bad news for Lonegan is that his momentum in the polls has stopped. Quinnipiac’s latest survey actually showed Booker picking up a couple of points from their previous two polls.
Ultimately, a poor showing by Booker would show vulnerability and invite a strong Republican challenger when the full term is contested in 2014. Booker will be hoping to get at least 55% of the vote. Lonegan’s goal will be to exceed 45%, which will place him in contention for a re-match in just 13 months.
Reasons why the race could be close (less than 10 points)
1. Booker is effectively an incumbent given his visibility in the state. Despite being well known he is only polling in the low 50s.
2. A special election may favor the GOP whose base is firmly behind Lonegan. Special election low turnout, may mean casual Democrats or more likely to stay home than casual Republicans.
Reasons why the race could be a route (more than 15 points)
1. Lonegan has yet to hit 40% in the polling average.
2. Democrats have a strong track record of over-performing polls in New Jersey (Chris Christie in 2009 being an exception).
3. Democrats have a superior infrastructure in New Jersey for turning out the vote.
4. Given the blue nature of the state, undecided voters may not like Booker, but they are not likely to come out for a special election to support Lonegan.
Prediction: Booker 58, Lonegan 41, Others 1