A number of political prognosticators are recapping Terry McAuliffe’s closer-than-expected victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election over Republican firebrand Ken Cuccinelli to mean a number of different things. Some believe that Cuccinelli’s radical views, particularly on abortion and contraception, demonstrate the Tea Party’s increasing unpopularity with the majority of Americans. Some see Cuccinelli’s lack of support from the Republican Party and his limited campaign donations as indicative that he could have won with a bit more backing. Others see the unexpected tightness of the race to mean that Republicans haven’t lost Virginia as badly as it may seem. Many conservatives think Republicans won a referendum on Obamacare. Liberals think they did. Some think libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis cost Cuccinelli the governorship (it didn’t). Yet others think it was Cuccinelli’s connections to current Governor Bob McDonnell’s scandal and the government shutdown that gave McAuliffe the victory.
There are plenty of views to go around. Guess what? All of them are pointless. This a time when the best thing to say is: I don’t know.
Virginia’s gubernatorial race was unique in that it pitted two candidates against each other who were both disliked by voters. Near the end of the race, Republicans foolishly shut down the government, something that they were blamed for and affected Virginia more than any other state thanks to its significant ties to federal agencies. Cuccinelli was painted as a radical social conservative, specifically on abortion, and did not harp Obamacare, as many Republican politicians have, until late in the race. McAuliffe brought in Democratic heavyweights including the Clintons and President Obama to campaign for him.
All of these things make it impossible to deduce national implications from this election. It’s almost impossible to deduce any implications for Virginia next year even.
Here are a few questions to think about:
- Would Cuccinelli’s Tea Party views have been rejected even more with a better Democratic candidate?
- Would a stronger, moderate Republican candidate have defeated McAuliffe and kept Virginia red?
- Would Cuccinelli have won, and thus demonstrated the Tea Party’s continued power, if he had more money and national support?
- Would a victory in that scenario have been a referendum on the Tea Party or just a result of a weak Democratic nominee?
There is almost nothing you can take from this race that has any meaning politically. It simply has too many outside factors that impacted it in ways that are impossible to take into account. A tweet from Jonathan Chait summed it up best:
Anyone trying to tell you what the Virginia gubernatorial election means for the Democrat or Republican Party is taking a guess. The truth is that there is no way to take a larger meaning from this race. Sometimes it’s best for political commentators to admit that they don’t know what the main takeaway is from a certain election. This is one of those occasions.