Time to panic for the Virginia GOP

Updated

A new Quinnipiac University poll released today has the GOP sounding the alarms in the Virginia Governor’s race, the most competitive race in the country this year.   The poll showed Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a six point lead over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters.  This number is astounding given the negative publicity both candidates have received in recent weeks.

“Terry can breathe a sigh of relief,” said prominent Republican strategist Ed Rogers.  “All of the water he’s been taking hasn’t had much of an effect.”

It was only a week ago that the Washington Post’s conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, was essentially predicting McAuliffe’s demise in a piece entitled “McAuliffe Crumbling?” which slammed the Democrat for his business practices and derided him as merely a “fundraiser” and “attack dog” for the Clintons. “But unless McAuliffe is able to change the dynamic in the race, it looks like he’s be the worst of two imperfect choices,” Rubin says.

According to this latest poll and the first survey of likely voters, either McAuliffe has done precisely what Rubin goaded him to do (change the dynamic of the race) or Virginia voters soundly reject her reasoning that he is the “lesser” alternative. Either way, she may want to reconsider her evaluation in light of these numbers.

“The campaign has been light on issues and big on personalities, and it is in the area of personal characteristics that McAuliffe has a small edge,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “It seems obvious that Gov. Bob McDonnell’s political troubles are hurting fellow Republican Cuccinelli.  Guilt by association may not be fair, but it sure is politically powerful.”

Cuccinelli is also dogged by gift scandals that he and current Governor Bob McDonnell have been entangled in for months.  While Federal investigators are still determining whether to pursue charges against McDonnell, Cuccinelli has said he cannot afford to repay the value of the gifts back to the donor in question.  Cuccinelli, who serves as Virginia’s and the Governor’s chief lawyer on state matters, has maintained that the gifts — including a flight, a catered Thanksgiving dinner, visits to the donor’s vacation home and nearly $7,000 in supplements — were items that he is unable to return.  McAuliffe has called on Cuccinelli to return the $18,000 in gifts and is running television ads blasting the Republican Attorney General for corrupt practices.

Rogers believes the race is still very competitive and neither candidate should read too far in the latest poll as it is one snapshot in time.  However, he also concedes that McDonnell’s troubles have had an impact on Cuccinelli’s candidacy. “The Republican brand in Virginia isn’t doing Cuccinelli any favors,” he said.

Rubin was, however, correct about what remains to be seen in this fight for the Old Dominion’s top job.

“McAuliffe has yet to really unload against Cuccinelli on the social issues or make the case that the state needs someone to work with rather than go to war with the feds,” she said.

But there is plenty of time left for the McAuliffe campaign to paint Cuccinelli as an extremist for his social views and those of his running mate, E.W. Jackson. In what could be seen as a preview, this week the McAuliffe campaign blasted out a fundraising solicitation to its supporters comparing Cuccinelli to failed 2012 Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

“If Akin and Mourdock were foot soldiers in the war on women’s health, Ken Cuccinelli is one of its leaders,” the email said.  “It’s undeniable: Akin and Cuccinelli are two peas in a pod. They both support Personhood bills that would ban many common forms of birth control, including the pill.”

The Democrats will certainly have the money continue the attack on Cuccinelli’s record, as McAuliffe maintains a healthy financial advantage over the Virginia Attorney General. McAuliffe has raised $11.1 million this year and finished June with $6 million on hand while Cuccinelli has raised $7.7 million had $2.65 million on hand at the end of June.  Former Secretary State Hillary Clinton is widely expected to bring in even more dough when she hosts a fundraiser for her former campaign chairman at her home in Washington, DC on September 30th. (Clinton, herself, leads five potential GOP rivals in Virginia in hypothetical match ups for the 2016 election according to a PPP poll from July,

Nothing about the McAuliffe campaign appears to be “crumbling,” as Rubin implies last week in the Washington Post, rather quite the contrary as he appears to have strong momentum going into the fall and Rubin’s fellow conservatives are taking note.

“If McAuliffe can a survive a summer of bad press and emerge with his biggest lead of the year, then he’s in good shape heading into the homestretch this fall,” wrote conservative Jonathan Tobin in Commentary.

It’s a stunning admission from the right, who appears to be throwing in the towel on Cuccinelli and perhaps even on the political fertility of Virginia when it comes to Republicans comfortably winning statewide contests anymore.

“But no matter how you choose to spin the various elements that have produced a race that appears tilting to McAuliffe, the inability of Cuccinelli to overcome these factors must be put down primarily to the changing electoral landscape of Virginia,”  Tobin said.  “If even a tarnished candidate like McAuliffe can be this far ahead at this point in the race, it is a sign that the days of Red Virginia are at an end.”

This also comes off the heels of a prominent Republican Strategist and former chief of staff to Republican Governor Jim Gilmore, Boyd Marcus, endorsing McAuliffe over Cuccinelli earlier this week as reported by NBC News.

“I’ve never before supported any Democrat, but this election Terry is the clear choice for mainstream conservatives,” Marcus said in a statement released by the McAuliffe campaign. “I am excited to work with him to grow the already-long list of prominent Republican leaders who are supporting his campaign.”

If successful, McAuliffe would be defying Virginia’s historic trend since 1977 as the state has consistently rejected the candidate of the sitting President’s party.  The latest in 2009, when Republican Robert McDonnell defeated Democrat Creigh Deeds just a year after Obama won the state by 6 percentage points.

The McAullife-Cuccinelli match up would not be the first time Virginia voters would have to choose between “the lesser of two evils” as Rubin says.  The 1994 Senate contest between incumbent Chuck Robb and Iran-Contra figure Col. Oliver North was one of the ugliest and most personal in the state’s history, with Virginians ultimately re-electing the Democrat, Robb.

Time to panic for the Virginia GOP

Updated