Neither Cuccinelli nor McAuliffe can win. And yet one of them must.
When a candidate is described as “divisive,” generally it’s intended to mean that while his own party loves him, the other party can’t stand him. In what’s shaping up to be a race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli for the Virginia governorship, there are two wildly divisive candidates who are perhaps more divisive within their own parties than outside of it.
Four years ago, McAuliffe came in a distant second in a three-man race for the nomination for governor (despite raising $8M), won no geographic portion of Virginia, and endeared himself to nobody in the process. He’s never been elected to public office and has no constituency. The percentage of Democrats who would definitely not vote for him exceeds the percentage who would vote for him. That’s not in the primary—that’s in the general election. McAuliffe is a Clinton-era Democrat, the sort of old-school Democrat accustomed to winning elections by sucking up to power brokers, the sort who was purged from positions of power in the party round about 2005. It’s his turn to run for office, you see. He’s a glad-hander (it’s always “good to see you,” never “good to meet you”), always ready with the grip-and-grin. His performance at the 2009 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner really said it all.
And the Bill Clinton thing. Good Lord, the Bill Clinton thing. Guess who McAuliffe just got off the phone with? Guess who he just played golf with? You know who told him the funniest thing the other day? McAuliffe cannot stop mentioning Clinton because it’s all he’s got. Terry McAuliffe : Bill Clinton :: Marge Simpson : Chanel suit.
McAuliffe’s business bona fides aren’t much better. Global Crossing. (Need I say more?) His current business, Greentech Automotive, recently established an auto plant…in Mississippi. Despite that McAuliffe knew full well that he’d be running for governor of Virginia, touting his business experience on a platform of creating jobs. (“The main reason Terry is running for Governor is to make it easier for companies to create jobs right here in Virginia,” says his spokesman.) Why didn’t he build the plant in Virginia? Oh, it’s not his fault—it’s the fault of Virginia Economic Development Partnership! “It was their decision,” McAuliffe spinelessly informed The Note. How was the location of his factory a decision of tiny state agency? They wouldn’t pay him enough to locate his plant in Virginia. Yes, McAuliffe believes that states should bid for businesses (an economic loser just about every time), even his own business, not by creating environments conducive to running businesses and recruiting employees, but by just offering cash. This, of course, is why this company was located in Hong Kong when he bought it—in a globalized economy, a lowest-bidder approach will leave manufacturing out of the U.S. permanently. Mississippi, you see, is the U.S.’s version of a third-world country. Perhaps McAuliffe will be running on a platform of making Virginia more like Mississippi? In their defense, VEDP says that McAuliffe never even completed their application. McAuliffe shopped around for a state in which to open a factory the same way that he shopped around for a state in which to run for governor. Virginia’s apparently great for running for governor, but not so great for building “cars” that are legally identical to golf carts.
Not one Democrat in a hundred is excited about McAuliffe. Democrats are fired up about him the same way that Republicans were fired up about Mitt Romney. The base will fake it through November and, if he loses, they’ll all say how they never really liked him in the first place. If he wins, of course, they always believed in him!
Then there’s Ken Cuccinelli. Christ, what an asshole. “Extremist” has seldom been a more suitable word to describe a candidate. He supports a no-exceptions ban on abortion, opposes homosexuality (period), thinks Virginia needs Arizona-style anti-immigration laws, believes that global climate change is a conspiracy theory, and thinks that President Obama didn’t really win reelection last month. He has 95% of the traits that have been laying waste to the Republican Party in recent years, save one—he’s not dumb. In fact, he’s an intelligent guy, and a too-common mistake made by Democrats is to believe that just because he professes wildly retrograde, utterly contra-factual beliefs, that he must be a fool. He is not. (This is in sharp contrast with Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, etc., who, even collectively, are dumber than a sack of hammers.) Unlike McAuliffe, he actually has a base, and he’s been elected to office repeatedly. He represented Fairfax in the General Assembly for two terms and, of course, successfully ran for attorney general. While McAuliffe is a generic sort of a centrist-ish Democrat who is hobbled by a terrible personality and the perception that he’s a carpetbagger, Cuccinelli is hobbled by holding views that are wildly out of step with Virginians, Americans, and the facts. I’d guess about 20% of the electorate probably adores him, but far more deplore him (or will, come next October).
Cuccinelli is the sort of social conservative that’s driving a wedge into the Republican Party. Regular ol’ fiscally conservative Republicans have tolerated allowing this type into the tent so long as they’ve furthered the same collective goals, but it’s started to get embarrassing (e.g., the Tea Party). Those regular Republicans were victorious in the nomination process for the presidency this year, allowing Romney to defeat a field that consisted largely of crazies, but after Romney’s loss, it’s not clear which side will be running the party soon. Dick Armey’s departure from FreedomWorks (one of the the Koch-funded companies that created and bankroll the Tea Party) is the latest evidence that the conservative power brokers have lost control over their own creations—the inmates are running the asylum. Cuccinelli is proudly on the inmates’ side of the fence, and unless he’s prepared to tamp down that image, he’s going to have a tough time getting support from the kind of Republicans who supported Mark Warner over Jim Gilmore. This, of course, is why Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is flirting with running as an independent. His is the wing of the party that thinks that the grassroots need to be trimmed back (to abuse a metaphor), the wing that Cuccinelli is going to have a tough time wooing, and a tougher time still if Bolling gets into the race.
Power-brokers on both sides are pooh-poohing talk of primary challengers and third-party candidacies. When former congressman Tom Perriello demurred a few days ago, that was the prompt for Democrats to declare that it’s time to get behind McAuliffe as our candidate. This has not been greeted with enthusiasm.
All of this reminds me of the Republican presidential nomination process in 2008 and 2012. Reviewing every candidate, there was a clear and obvious argument to be made as to why they couldn’t possibly win the nomination. And yet somebody had to win and, indeed, somebody did. Neither Cuccinelli nor McAuliffe can possibly win a gubernatorial election. And yet—unless somebody else enters the race—one of them will.
This is the worst kind of election, the kind in which a supermajority of the voters in each party have to support not their preferred candidate, but the one whom they loathe the least. (To be fair, this is how some voters feel about every election.) That may be what makes it such an ideal race for a solid third-party candidate like Bolling to take a run at election. Russ Potts’ 2005 gubernatorial candidacy was a threat to Republican nominee Jerry Kilgore, but there was never any danger of him winning the election. Republicans were OK with Kilgore, and Democrats liked Tim Kaine. Things are different this time. If Bolling can trim his sails a bit (he is a conservative Republican after all), he can take votes from both candidates, money from both sides, and I think it’s entirely possible for him to win. At least, then, it’ll be possible for somebody to win.