Who elected Terry McAuliffe Governor of Virginia? If the exit polls can be believed it was Government workers, Black people, single women, the 1% and the disgusted (aka “the Marash voters.”)
Tracking polls over the last month of the campaign suggest, the issue that seemed to turn this wretched race the Democrat’s way was the shutdown of the Federal government. Before the shutdown, Republican Attorney General Ken Cucinnelli was ahead. After it, he was so far behind, even the subsequent public outrage over the incompetent mis-launch of Obamacare could only close the gap.
“The shutdown demoralized a chunk of the Republican base and really energized a chunk of the Democratic base,” GOP pollster Wes Anderson told Politico’s James Hohmann. “Terry McAuliffe had not found any way to energize the Democratic base prior to the shutdown.”
McAuliffe’s paltry margin, 55,000 votes out of 2.2 million cast has enabled all sides to claim to see something they liked about the results, especially pundits, who could, in the empowering words of Roanoke College political scientist Harry L. Wilson, quoted in the NY Times, “spin this any way you want.”
Cucinnelli’s spin has emphasized two main points, neither of them really good news for the Republican Party. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the first: “This race went down to the wire because of Obamacare,” Cucinnelli said in his concession speech. “That message will go out across America tonight.”
The national news wires contain a lot of evidence that a lot of Republicans believe this is true, but for how long will the GOP assault on the Affordable Care Act resonate? My guess is, hostility to Obamacare and to Obama himself is at a peak, and as the inevitable fixes are made, and people understand that for most them, Obamacare is a pretty good deal, the issue will lose potency.
Cucinnelli’s second point is even more incontrovertible: he was left high and dry by the Republican establishment, insiders and fellow-travelers alike. Although the Republican Governors Conference tried to make up for it, the GOP National Committee dropped their Virginian gubernatorial candidate like a burning coal. The RNC, Politico reported, “spent about $3 million on Virginia this year, compared to $9 million in the 2009 governor’s race,” while usually loyal GOP retainer the US Chamber of Commerce, “spent $1 million boosting [Republican Governor Robert] McDonnell in 2009 and none this time.”
In 2013, a lot of big-money donors went Democratic, giving the fixer's fixer a huge edge, -- “$34.4 million to $19.7 million,” the NY Times’ Trip Gabriel reported. On the short end, this is another manifestation of the Disgust Factor (of which, more later), but on the weighty side of the money scale, what is seen as opportunity by the 1% is often winds up being viewed as waste or corruption by the less-favored.
Gov.-elect McAuliffe’s career contains ample proof of that embittered proposition.
His success with a few rich normally-Republican contributors seems to have confused the winner. Politico’s Hohmann reported, ‘McAuliffe declared in his victory speech that ‘a historic number of Republicans’ supported him. But that’s just not how it happened.
“The Democrat won only 4 percent of self-identified Republicans, according to exit polling,” Hohmann reported. “His key was getting more of his people to the polls — 37 percent of voters self-identified as Democrats and 32 percent self-identified as Republican.”
In other words, one big reason Cucinnelli lost is that he was rejected by many of his own party's rank and file, as well as by a few renegade Republican McAuliffe investors. This is seriously bad news for the GOP, showing as it does, how deep are the existing splits within the party between so-called Moderates and far-right radicals. But there is far worse news in the details of the exit polling data.
Virginia, like the rest of the United States, is getting more diverse by the year. In Virginia, the most important minority group by far is African-Americans, and as they did a year ago for the African-American Obama, they went 90-10 this year for the White Democrat McAuliffe. Blacks make up 20% of the voters in Virginia. If you win them 9 to 1, you can lose by a 3 to 2 margin with everyone else and still have a majority.
Cucinnelli lost to McAuliffe by 9 percent among women 51% to 42. But among married women, the Republican won by exactly the same margin. Single women did him in. 67% favored McAuliffe to 29% for Cuccinnelli. The issue for most of them, one guesses, was access to abortion without humiliation. But, politically, here's the frightening bottom line for the GOP, single women are, by and large, younger than married women.
A longtime Virginia Republican, wformer State sen. John Chichester, ho is serving as part of McAuliffe's transition committee summed up that issue perfectly: "“The Republican Party wasn’t put here to be the traffic cop of our personal lives, and that needs to be changed.”
According to the NY Times’ exit polls, the only age groups Cuccinnelli won were those 45 and over. What does this mean for 2014, 2016, 2020? A harder road for Republican candidates.
The other interesting age-related statistic was that voters under 30 were more than twice as likely to reject both so-called “major party” candidates, to vote for, in this case, Libertarian Robert Sarvis. He took 15% of the youth vote, 6.5% overall.
If this data is part of the trend analyst Peter Beinart said he’s seen in the NYC Mayor election and in polling data from all over the country over the past several years, the road to the future may be bumpier for both Democrats and Republicans. A lot of young people, "the Millennials," think they both suck.
But maybe this election choice, as University of Virginia political scientist (and King of the Old Dominion political oracles) Larry Sabato put it, “between a heart attack and cancer,” will be a one-time nightmare. Maybe we will never again see an election in which only 13% of voters exit polled by the NY Times believed both candidates to be “ethical” people. 54% split down the middle, 27% calling McAuliffe ethical, 27% applying the label to Cucinnelli. But 30%, the plurality of Virginia voters, rejected both men as ethically deficient.
If McAuliffe mischaracterized Republican voters, Cuccinnelli’s people did the same for Sarvis voters, claiming, if the Libertarian had not stolen votes from him, the AG would have won. Not according to exit polls analyzed by the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza. If Sarvis voters had gone with their second choice, he wrote, “Cuccinelli would have gone from 45 percent to 46 percent. McAuliffe would have stayed at 48 percent — and won. Perhaps the most interesting thing,” Cilizza said, “is that the vast majority of Sarvis supporters said that if he were not in the race they simply wouldn’t have voted.”
Can we give a shout out to The Disgusted?”
And for fans of happy dust, we have the editorial writers of the Washington Post, who see McAuliffe’s victory as “a watershed moment for Democrats.”
“The good news” for Mr. McAuliffe, they crowed, is that his campaign “was relatively gaffe-free, [which] suggests that, Mr. McAuliffe may also possess a degree of discipline for which he has not been celebrated to date.”
The Post’s lead reporter, Marc Fisher picked up this theme in his coverage. “This campaign presented a different McAuliffe,” he wrote, "his message disciplined, and his opportunities to improvise sparse. He barely spoke in his own TV ads, rarely gave news conferences and stuck to his talking points in public appearances.”
What Fisher and the editorial board see as “discipline,” the Post’s political analyst Robert McCartney saw, more accurately, I think, as “fear he’ll say something ignorant or inaccurate.”
After winning a long and bitter campaign, which produced results much closer than almost anyone, especially the political pollsters, expected, McAuliffe’s victory news conference consisted of 6 questions, and then was shut down.
McCartney was able to get in a prized question, and got in return, not much. “Given the outsize role that scandals played in the campaign, the state is crying out for a crusade for honest government," he said. "That’s especially important because of the numerous questions raised over the years about McAuliffe’s own business dealings and campaign fundraising.
“McAuliffe chuckled nervously when I asked him about this at the news conference. He repeated his pledges to decline gifts of more than $100 and to propose an independent ethics commission with “real teeth,” including subpoena power, to help clean up Richmond.”
Then it was time to party.
Before we go, let’s try to remember two things, a Republican candidate who staked out the most extreme positions against women’s rights (think trans-vaginal probe), gay rights (he tried to ban the concept from the University of Virginia), and the science behind global warming (he wasted his publically-paid time and taxpayers money “legally” harassing a UVA environmental scientist), who campaigned with Sen. Ted Cruz, Mr. Federal shutdown, and who admitted taking money from a political favor-seeker, failing to report it, and only belatedly confirming the full amount he had taken, still only lost by 2 percentage points.
And, had the election been delayed a week, as Obamacare outrage continued to fester, he might actually have won.
And the second thing to remember: as Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in the best line of the election, “You know what they call a guy who wins the governor’s race by only one point? Governor.”
God help us.