November 5th Not Looking Good For Virginia Republicans

With debate season over, it's looking less and less likely that Virginia Republicans will be able to hold back the Democrats on November 5th.


As I’ve noted several times in the past few weeks, the one competitive race in the United States this year has been looking decidedly non-competitive as Democrat Terry McAuliffe has been pulling ahead of Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia Governor’s race to the point where, based on current RealClearPolitics numbers, he has a +10.2 point lead over Cuccinelli in a head to head matchup and a +9.2 lead if Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis is included in the race. This is the end result of a trend that has developed since mid-September when McAuliffe began pulling away from his opponent and the race began in earnest. Now, with less than two weeks left in the race, veteran Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato and his team at Sabato’s Crystal Ball are forecasting a big night for Virginia Democrats on November 5th:

Some history is being made in Virginia.

The statehouse battle was supposed to be close. But as we look at Virginia’s gubernatorial contest in the stretch, just about everything is moving in a Democratic direction. The final debate Thursday night changed little, in our view — especially because it wasn’t even broadcast statewide.

You might recall that the Crystal Ball was the first ratings agency to tilt the race to ex-Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (D), and we did so at the end of August. Today we move the race from Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic.

The list of McAuliffe advantages is as long as the list of problems for state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R). On the fundraising front, McAuliffe has cemented his advantage: As of Sept. 30, McAuliffe had outraised Cuccinelli $26 million to $17 million.

The structure of the contest favors McAuliffe, too. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, though unknown, is benefitting from a general unhappiness with the quality of both major-party candidates, as well as the overwhelmingly negative tone of the campaign. The latest RealClearPolitics aggregate has Sarvis’ polling average right at 10%. Most polling shows Sarvis is, net, costing Cuccinelli about 2%-3%, because the Libertarian disproportionately takes votes from the GOP column. Even should Cuccinelli close hard and fast, Sarvis thus gives McAuliffe a cushion that makes it difficult for Cuccinelli to overtake him.

The federal government shutdown, in a state heavily dependent on military and civilian government work, has been a disaster for Cuccinelli. Voters have mainly blamed the GOP and the Tea Party, both Cuccinelli’s labels. The Republican Party’s image has been severely damaged in Virginia at precisely the wrong time for a Republican candidate for governor. It hasn’t necessarily shown up in the polls — which showed consistent leads for McAuliffe before the shutdown began — but the federal fracas also robbed Cuccinelli of an opportunity to change the race, and his remaining days are dwindling.

And then there’s Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). A year ago, with his popularity soaring, he was expected to play a major role in the 2013 contest, helping his party retain the statehouse. After his Gift-gate scandal, and facing possible federal indictment, McDonnell is useless to Cuccinelli. McDonnell is also still furious that Cuccinelli dethroned the governor’s preferred successor, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), while Cuccinelli deeply distrusts McDonnell. By the way, many senior McDonnell appointees are sitting on their hands, doing nothing to help Cuccinelli.

All of this is on top of Cuccinelli’s self-created problems on social issues (abortion, gay rights, climate change, immigration, etc.). His right-wing positions have become unacceptable in the new Purple, competitive Virginia, and they have pushed many moderate Republicans to publicly or privately back McAuliffe — or to stay neutral.

One of Cuccinelli’s last chance to make any headway against the McAuliffe onslaught would have come in last night’s final Gubernatorial debate, which was held a the nominally GOP-friendly area of the state. By all accounts, though, the Attorney General failed in his task:

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Ken Cuccinelli II and Terry McAuliffe took turns tying the other to Washington partisanship and offered sharply different visions on gun control, job creation and health care policy in the final debate of the Virginia governor’s race Thursday night.

The hour-long debate echoed the main themes of a deeply contentious campaign that comes to a close in just 12 days. Cuccinelli tried to cast McAuliffe, the exuberant fundraiser and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as unserious, partisan and ill-prepared to govern. McAuliffe portrayed his opponent, the Republican attorney general, as far too extreme for most Virginians, particularly on social issues such as abortion.

Cuccinelli linked McAuliffe to the troubled rollout of the new federal health-care law — an effort to reclaim an anti-Washington mantle that slipped away during a government shutdown blamed largely on Republicans. McAuliffe likened Cuccinelli’s no-compromise positions to the politics that caused the shutdown.

“Just this week he refused to say whether he supported reopening government,” McAuliffe said, referring to Cuccinelli’s comment that he wasn’t sure how he would have voted on the spending deal that ended the federal shutdown.

Countered Cuccinelli: “Terry not only supported Obamacare, he didn’t think it went far enough,” Cuccinelli said. “Can you imagine?”

With McAuliffe consistently leading in the polls, Cuccinelli sought to play the aggressor onstage at Virginia Tech in an effort to regain momentum in his final appearance before a statewide audience. There was no dramatic moment likely to change the trajectory of the race.

The debate was sponsored by the university and the Roanoke television station WDBJ.

“Terry McAuliffe literally did nothing for Virginia or Virginians before deciding to run for governor. Nothing,” Cuccinelli said at the debate’s start.

Instead, Cuccinelli said, “My opponent’s plan has been to attack me and scare Virginians — especially women — into voting for him; to speak in platitudes.”

Cuccinelli repeatedly returned to what he described as a lack of substance in McAuliffe’s policy blueprints, and he accused him of making promises he couldn’t back up.

“Those are platitudes. They’re not plans,” Cuccinelli said. “I like those too. I like education. I like puppies. But I don’t bring a puppy home if I don’t have a plan for how I’m going to deal with that puppy. … And he’ s all puppy and no plan.”

From the start, McAuliffe called himself someone “who will work with both parties to focus on jobs and education.” Cuccinelli, he said, “has become increasingly desperate” and has lobbed “false attacks.”

McAuliffe frequently cited endorsements by Republicans as evidence that Cuccinelli is too extreme for Virginia — and that McAuliffe would work across the aisle.


McAuliffe touted his support for Medicaid expansion, which states may opt for — and the federal government would largely pay for — under the health law. He said he would rely on the savings in state dollars to boost spending for education and other programs.

Cuccinelli mocked Medicaid expansion as the “magical money tree” that McAuliffe thinks would pay for everything.

“Folks, it’s welfare,” Cuccinelli said of Medicaid. “It’s not a jobs program.”

After the debate, McAuliffe acknowledged to reporters that the rollout has been flawed.

“Obviously it doesn’t work and whoever was responsible for it should be held accountable, and it needs to be fixed,” McAuliffe said.

Gun issues also played a key role in a debate staged at the school where 32 people were killed by a gunman in 2007. The back and forth over firearms provided a dramatic window into the way the political landscape of Virginia, a once-deeply pro-gun state, has evolved in recent years.

“I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA,” McAuliffe said after making clear he did not support the idea of arming teachers in schools. He emphasized that he supports universal background checks, even for currently exempt purchases at gun shows, which Cuccinelli has opposed.

Cuccinelli stressed his own longstanding work on mental-health issues and on keeping guns away from the mentally ill, but he did not say whether he supported arming teachers. He bragged that he is an “A-rated candidate” according to the NRA.

Much like the first two debates in this campaign, there really wasn’t any kind of home run hit or gaffe committed by either of the candidates, and certainly nothing that would seem to be guaranteed to change the tone of the race significantly in the next eleven days, and certainly nothing that would blunt McAuliffe’s momentum going forward. Some Virginia conservatives are contending today that McAuliffe’s line about the National Rifle Association is going to hurt him in the race, citing the fact that previous candidates for Governor of both parties have been generally solicitous of the group and loath to cross its path. Frankly, I’m not sure its going to matter. Yes, there are many parts of the state where any kind of support for gun control is going to hurt a candidate in the polls, but to be honest McAuliffe isn’t going to win in those parts of the state. Instead, McAuliffe’s position is quite clearly aimed at the suburban vote in Northern Virginia and Tidewater, and the fact that he’s running commercials up here touting his support for expanded background checks, an issue that has overwhelming public support in the Commonwealth. My guess is that the NRA line, even if it ends up in a commercial over the coming week, has little to no effect on the race.

The bigger point of the debate, though, was that this was essentially Cuccinelli’s last chance to turn the tide in the race, albeit at an incredibly late date. Even halfway through the thing, it was clear that he was failing in that regard. Neither he nor McAuliffe are what I would call great debaters, and both candidates did a very good job at evading requests for specifics abiout their plans, but it was Cuccinelli who went into last night trailing badly in the polls and he’s the one who had the burden. In the end, it seems pretty clear to me that he failed to meet that burden. Now, we’re headed into the final ten days of the campaign and both campaigns will be focused on getting out their respective bases. Based on the polls, that’s going to be a far easier task for McAuliffe than Cuccinelli.

The forecast also sees good news for Virginia Democrats in the down ballot races:

With the election dynamics moving in the Democrats’ favor, the race for lieutenant governor is now Safe Democratic. Not only is Jackson controversial for his political views, but his campaign has been a mess. New revelations about his past financial problems and his campaign’s failures to properly disclose donations reflect a sloppiness or incompetence that was always going to make it hard for him to win. Now in the final days of the campaign, state Sen. Ralph Northam’s (D) campaign is going to hammer Jackson with television ads and mailers using the large volume of opposition research at its fingertips. Northam has raised significantly more than Jackson, so he will have the resources to do this effectively.

Meanwhile, the battle between the Marks for the state’s attorney general position is going to be the real race to watch on election night. Because of the likely coattails from McAuliffe and Northam, we’re moving this very close race from Toss-up to Leans Democratic.

The Attorney General’s race could be the one bright spot for the GOP this year. Obsenshain has managed to run a fairly independent campaign that has disassociated him from both Cuccinelli and Jackson, which is likely the main reason why he remains competitive in the polls. Additionally, there’s the historical oddity that, regardless of who has won the top two races, Republicans have won the Attorney General’s race in every election going back to 1993. If Obenshain does win, though, he’ll likely be the lone Republican victory in what will otherwise be a bad night for Virginia Republicans.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Whaddya mean?
    This Cooch guy isn’t gettiing elected.
    That’s good for Republicans. They can’t govern. So if he isn’t elected he won’t be another failed Republican Governor.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Just imagine how bad it would be if the Democrats had nominated a decent candidate.

  3. Surreal American says:

    But, but, but…Obamacare website!!!

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Just imagine how bad it would be if the Democrats had nominated a decent candidate.

    Just imagine how bad it would be if Republicans hadn’t put up the absolute tip-top cream-of-the-crop best guy they could find. If they had nominated just any ol’ Tea-Bagger things could have been really awful.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Cuccinelli is a hard line social conservative in the fire and brimstone mode of Santorum. This is more and more an electoral dead end. It may take a few years, but eventually the GOP is going to have to let go of the evangelicals etc. in order to have any hope of national electoral relevance. What happens then I do not know.

    (hey, somebody had to pick up the slack for superdestroyer)

  6. Mikey says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: GOP consultant Mike Murphy did an interview with Chris Cillizza at the WaPo earlier this week and called it a battle between “priests” and “mathematicians” (Murphy himself being in the latter camp):

    There seem to be two schools of thought in GOP. One group, the Mathematicians, look at the GOP’s losing streak and the changing demography of the country and say the party needs to make real changes to attract voters beyond the old Republican base of white guys. Not just mechanics, but also policy. They want to modernize conservatism and change some of the old dogma on big issues like same sex marriage. I’m one of them. The other group, the Priests, say the problem is we don’t have enough ideological purity. We must have faith, be pure and nominate “real conservatives” (whatever that means; the Priests are a bit slippery about their definitions) who will fight without compromise against liberalism. The Priests are mostly focused on the sins we are against; they say our problem is a lack of intensity; if we are passionate and loud enough, we will alert and win over the rest of the country. The Mathematicians hear all this and think the Priests are totally in a 55-year-old white guy echo chamber of their own creation and disconnected from the reality of today’s electorate. They are worry more about what the party should be for, and how we grow our numbers. They think the Priests fail to understand it is not 1980 anymore and votes are not there for the Old Pitch. The Priests hear the Mathematicians and think they are all sell-outs.

    I linked to it in another comment thread, but if you haven’t seen it, you might find it interesting.

    The Republican battle between mathematicians and priests

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Well, Doug, you’ve certainly done your part. You’ve made sure everyone knows every little thing you don’t like about Cuccinelli, at every opportunity. And you’ve occasionally mentioned that oh yeah, McAuliffe is bad, too.

    So things are turning out as you (apparently) hoped for. Get the champagne ready.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Yes, it’s clearly Doug’s fault. Nothing to do with Virginia Republicans being dominated by Tea Party morons while the state trends purple.

    Shame on you, Doug.

  9. David M says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    The problem is the GOP is now making Terry McAuliffe look like the reasonable, responsible choice in an election. That’s what should concern you, not the people pointing out the problem.

  10. @Ron Beasley:

    The truth is that the DPV doesn’t have a very deep bench when it comes to statewide candidates. Heck that’s half the reason that McAulife, who had lost the 2009 nomination to a little known state Senator from Southside, was able to walk in and take the nomination without anyone even bothering to run against him.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The truth is that the DPV doesn’t have a very deep bench when it comes to statewide candidates.

    And yet, he is beating Cuccinnelli like a red headed step child. And Jenos doesn’t see the writing on the wall.

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Sitting here 4,000 miles away I’ll take your word for that.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:


    The other group, the Priests, say the problem is we don’t have enough ideological purity. We must have faith, be pure and nominate “real conservatives” (whatever that means; the Priests are a bit slippery about their definitions) who will fight without compromise against liberalism.

    You forgot, “Keep our hands off little boys’ private parts.” (sorry, couldn’t resist) thanx for the link, sounds like exactly what I am trying to say.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mikey: This captures the moment perfectly:

    We are obsessed with mechanics and the Internet but the real issue is policy. New ideas. But since our internal incentives are often stacked against any evolution on some of these issues, we are stuck in a terrible quandary; shooing away tomorrow’s voters to pander to yesterday’s.


    For the Democrats, it is that new fad called the Internet. For the GOP, it’s AM radio. AM radio is likely to be gone in 10 years

  15. Jr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yeah, this true. T-Mac is a flawed candidate and would have not been the nominee if the D’s had a better bench. Honestly, I am surprised Tom Perriello didn’t go for it, he is far better candidate then T-Mac.

  16. PJ says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    You need help. Seriously.

  17. grumpy realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Why blame Doug? It’s Cuccinelli who has the reactionary positions that are pissing off the voters of Virginia.

    Hell, from where I look at as female, you haven’t even managed to chase away the idiots who want to repeal voting rights for women. Oh, sure, they claim they’re “joking”, but it’s not very funny coming from people who have never indicated they believe women to be humans with equal rights to those of men.

  18. steve s says:

    I want every GOP nominee from here on to be ones who energize and enthuse the Superdestroyer, JKB, Jenos crowd.

    In other words, candidates so obviously ignorant and blindingly Derpy that they lose everywhere people have at least average intelligence.

  19. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Yes, because if only Doug had kept his mouth shut about Cuccinelli, nobody would have realized he was a far right loon who believes that the government — as embodied by him — has the right to regulate and criminalize the personal sexual behavior of the citizenry.

  20. wr says:

    @steve s: Yes, I want the “blacks are too lazy to vote” guy to run for every elective office in the country!

  21. Smooth Jazz says:

    “November 5th Not Looking Good For Virginia Republicans”

    LOL – Maybe so, maybe not. Carpetbagger Terry better hope that other health insurers don’t join CareFirst and cancel hundreds of thousands of North VA voters health insurers plans and amplify Obama’s “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” bait and switch lie before voters head to the polls next month. Just wait until all those Virginian’s whose individual insurance plans have been canceled have to stay up all night to get a replacement plan on a website that doesn’t even work – at twice+ the cost of their current plan when factoring in premiums, co-pays, deductibles, etc.

    You ever hear of the phrase “Chickens coming home to roost” as it relates to Obama’s used car salesman scam job?? You think 10 Senate Dems are running for cover now?? Just wait until Jan 1 and millions of policies that are not grandfathered get canceled and people have to trudge on an unworkable web site for a policy that costs way more than they are paying now. By then, the ENTIRE SEN Dem caucus will be ready to cut Obama loose.

    Even respectable prognosicators like Sabato will not be able to predict the anger and ferocity that awaits Dems as Obama’s lies selling this clustefark gets revealed for all to see. Cuccinelli is a flawed candidate running in a state where the current Rep Gov is very unpopular, so even a used car salesman carperbagger Terry may seem like the better alternative when this ObamaCare disaster has barely started to damage the country and implode. So Nov 2013 may be too early for the crescendo to obliterate all Dems in its path.

    It is instructive to remember how Dems were wiped out in 2010 when this boondoggle was years away from being the train wreck we are all witnessing. At this point, I wouldn’t want to be a Dem running in 2014.

    Far left web sites like this did their part foisting this community organizer masquering as a sham wow huckster on the rest of us. It is gratifying to see his ruse & scam job coming back to bite him and you far left bloggers.

  22. Smooth Jazz says:

    “Well, Doug, you’ve certainly done your part. You’ve made sure everyone knows every little thing you don’t like about Cuccinelli, at every opportunity. And you’ve occasionally mentioned that oh yeah, McAuliffe is bad, too. So things are turning out as you (apparently) hoped for. Get the champagne ready.”

    Shssh, Otherwise the far left cranks that dominate this site will be all over you Doug is just another Liberal blogger, doing his deed for the cause – So if it was someone other than Cucinelli, he would still still tear the Rep to shreds. No harm, no foul. Conservative bloggers would say much the same stuff about carpetbagger, used car Salesman Terry.

    What Doug and his fellow left wing bloggers will have to deal with and take in, is the coming Tsunami that is about slam all these Dems in 2014 for being enablers of this ObamaCare boondoggle that is about severely dislocate & disrupt the health care ecosystem in the US. All it took for these Dems to foist this clusterfark on us was the speeches of a community organizer who had never run anything in his life. He led them all down a rat hole.

    Just get your popcorn ready for 2014 as Dems have to deal with all those commercials with Obama blathering on about “If you like your doctor & plan, you can keep your doctor and plan” over and over and over – It is going to brutal on Dems who voted for this clusterfark.

  23. Jewelbomb says:

    @Smooth Jazz: Take your meds, bro.

  24. PJ says:

    @Smooth Jazz:
    You do predict a lot.

    Refresh my memory, how did your 2012 predictions turn out?

    My prediction is that you’ll rant about the impending doom for the Democrats up and until election night. After the results are in, you’ll scurry back and hide under a rock for a couple of months. Then you’ll start ranting about the impending doom for Democrats in the 2016 election. And so on…

    Whatever personal problems you have, I hope that you’ll sort them out.

  25. bill says:

    so 4yrs from now they’ll need a republican to dig them out again- wash-rinse-repeat.

  26. Anonne says:

    Jenos & Smooth Jazz, etc. just exemplify the problem when you value party loyalty above other values like competence and pragmatism.

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:


    so 4yrs from now they’ll need a republican to dig them out again- wash-rinse-repeat.

    bill? Here’s a hint: Put down the shovel. The hole only gets deeper and deeper when the GOP is digging. Or did you not notice what happened from 2001-2009?

  28. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    This is why I see several of the regular commenters here as as stupid, dishonest, or both.

    I neither said nor implied that Mr. Mataconis or his colleagues should ease up on Cuccinelli, just noted that considerable energy has been expended expounding on his perceived flaws, while Mr. McAuliffe’s deficiences and defects were glossed over, only mentioned in passing and (to the best of my recollection) never elaborated.

    Does anyone else recall Global Crossing, for example? Or American Pioneer Savings Bank?

  29. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “This is why I see several of the regular commenters here as as stupid, dishonest, or both.”

    Psychologists call this “projection.”

  30. An Interested Party says:

    @Smooth Jazz: You lost the right to have any of your predictions taken seriously a long time ago…time and again your predictions have proven to be completely and utterly worthless…right now the only thing they’re good for is for $hits and giggles…

    so 4yrs from now they’ll need a republican to dig them out again- wash-rinse-repeat.

    Idiot…the reverse is actually true