So much for pundit’s prognostications of a massive repudiation of the Republican Party and Tea Partiers in particular in the Virginia governor’s race. Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated far right Tea Partier Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli but not with a margin anywhere as many predicted.
The result? It’s unlikely to be seen as a massive repudiation of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party — but will be seen as a warning to the GOP: this is a race it could have won with another candidate. And the Democrats should not be smiling too much. During the final days of the campaign Cuccinelli declared the contest a referendum on Obamacare, which has been beset by a terrible launch.
A bitter, divisive race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is over and it turned out to be a nailbiter. McAuliffe defeated Cuccinelli in a surprisingly razor-thin victory to become Virginia’s next governor, breaking a long Virginia tradition going back to 1977 of voting for a governor from the opposing party of the sitting president.
Virginia was one of two states choosing governors Tuesday, along with New Jersey – where Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., was re-elected – and a slew of local elections are also took place across the country including elections for big-city mayors and various state ballot initiatives.
According to exit polls, both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli did very well among their own partisans – each getting more than nine in 10 votes from members of their own parties. Cuccinelli had a nine-point edge among independents, who make up three in 10 voters in Virginia. But McAuliffe did better than Cuccinelli in getting out his base: slightly more voters described themselves as Democrats (37 percent) than Republicans (32 percent).
McAuliffe also won among voters under 45 and college graduates – both groups that McDonnell won four years ago – and he led among moderates (22 points) and women (9 points).
Virginia voters may have seen Cuccinelli as more extreme ideologically than McAuliffe. Fifty percent saw Cuccinelli as too conservative, compared to just 41 percent who saw McAuliffe as too liberal.
There are important changes to the demographic turnout from four years ago that made the race close this year. The conservative vote was down slightly – from 40 percent in 2009 to 36 percent today – and they were slightly less supportive of the Republican candidate. White evangelicals – who voted strongly Republican Tuesday and four years ago – made up 27 percent of the vote, down from 34 percent in 2009. A majority of white voters – 56 percent – favored Cuccinelli in the race, but their percentage of the electorate was down slightly (72 percent now compared to 78 percent in 2009), while the percentage of black voters – who vote overwhelmingly Democratic – has rose (20 percent now compared to 16 percent in 2009).
Regionally, while Cuccinelli won (58 percent) in the more conservative and rural western and central regions of Virginia, McAuliffe had the edge in the swing district of Richmond and the lower Potomac River (47-43 percent) and held a majority (54 percent) in the Tidewater region of Norfolk and Virginia Beach – which voted for Obama last year but went Republican four years ago in the race for governor. In the heavily Democratic D.C. suburbs, McAuliffe outperformed Cuccinelli by almost two-to-one.
If there had been a massive vote against Cuccinelli, it would likely have been interpreted as a repudiation of the Tea Party — a fact members of the Republican establishment and more centrist Republicans would have pointed to. The argument will likely still be used but it won’t be as effective given the closeness of the vote. ABC:
In the battle for governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe pulled out a narrow victory Tuesday over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Associated Press projected.
With 94 percent of precincts reporting, McAuliffe led by a percentage point in a contest that saw his opponent take an early lead and hold it for more than two hours after the polls closed.
Virginia’s odd year governor election and the state’s status as a pivotal swing state has made this race the most-watched contest this year for both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Democrats believe that McAuliffe’s victory over tea party-backed Cuccinelli will send a signal that voters will hold Republicans accountable for the government shutdown in the 2014 midterm elections.
“The American people reject tea party extremism, they reject the idea that it’s okay to hold the economy hostage in the name of denying quality affordable health care and they simply want us to work together,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told ABC News tonight. “I think through the 2014 midterms you’ll see that very stark contrast.”
“The tea party and the Republican Party are equated by voters and they can’t get away from the extremism even though they might try,” she added.
Both political parties have poured vast resources into this race.
But the bottom line: a Democratic governor in Virginia is good news for the Democrats, and bad news for the GOP, no matter what kind of arguments or spin emerge.