Virginia is the only state in the union holding major general elections in 2013. While there are a few special elections for Congress and a handful of mayoral and gubernatorial elections around the country this year – and the important recall elections in Colorado – only Virginia is holding elections for governor, lieutenant governor and all 100 seats in their House of Delegates – the larger part of the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere.
Both Republicans and Democrats want to win big in the Virginia to prove that their policies are strongly supported by the people. That means both parties, along with numerous special interests, will be pouring money and energy into the state.
As usual, the big money and attention is on the top of the ticket, in this case the race between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and close friend and ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton, is one of the most successful political fundraisers in history. His experience and connections will bring even more money into the state, and he will be providing significant help to Democratic House candidates in hopes of having a General Assembly that will support his agenda. The challenge is now for Republicans to get their act together and effectively compete with McAuliffe’s fundraising. If they can, this is likely to be the most expensive election cycle in Virginia history – possibly one of the most expensive state races anywhere, ever.
Since Virginia has swung both ways in statewide elections in recent years, most consider it to be a solid “purple” state, with rural areas trending strongly Republican and urban areas and the Northern Virginia D.C. suburbs trending strongly Democrat. This makes the race between traditional conservative Cuccinelli and liberal political insider McAuliffe look to be a fairly even match-up. Early polling had Cuccinelli with a substantial lead, but more recent numbers have McAuliffe slightly ahead. What will really make the difference in the race – and all of the down-ticket races – will be the success of the two major parties’ get-out-the-vote efforts.
Cuccinelli hails from liberal Northern Virginia and was repeatedly elected to the Virginia Senate by the voters of very liberal Fairfax County. The fact that he did that without hedging his conservative positions or waffling on core issues says a lot about the man and his appeal. He then won the statewide race for attorney general in 2009 by a significant margin.
Though not a native Virginian, Cuccinelli has spent most of his life in the state, receiving his B.S. from the University of Virginia and a J.D. and Master’s Degree from George Mason University. He has climbed the political ladder from the ground up, serving on various state commissions before being elected to the state Senate in 2002. He is an experienced campaigner with a solid support team in place.
McAuliffe, on the other hand, is the consummate political insider. He was raised in Syracuse, N.Y., and was brought to Virginia by Washington, D.C., politics. He has never held an elected office. McAuliffe made his millions through fundraising for Democratic politicians and making business deals with those he has raised funds from and for. McAuliffe has also been involved in a variety of commercial ventures, all of which seem to have been entwined with his political activity and also almost all of which seem to have ended up embroiled in controversy, accusations of impropriety and investigations. McAuliffe has made bringing jobs to Virginia the centerpiece of his current campaign, but when his most recent commercial venture, an electric vehicle manufacturing company, needed to build its manufacturing facilities, they chose Mississippi rather than Virginia. That doesn’t quite jibe with his “jobs” platform, and this business, too, has been under scrutiny for alleged improprieties.
On the gun issue, Cuccinelli supports gun rights, while McAuliffe is solidly in the anti-rights camp. Cuccinelli is expected to receive endorsements from all of the state’s and national gun rights organizations.
McAuliffe is one of the originators of the recently successful Democratic strategy of claiming support for the Second Amendment while simultaneously advocating for “reasonable, common-sense” restrictions on rights. He uses catchphrases like “illegal guns” and advocates for magical solutions like so-called “smart-gun” technology. He has also expressed support for such things as bans on “assault weapons,” limits on magazine capacity, criminalizing private transfers and restoring limits on the number of guns a person can buy in a given month.
As election professionals from around the country descend upon the Old Dominion – as a training ground and warm-up for the races of 2014 – candidates would be well-advised to use these outsiders cautiously and rely more on their proven and trusted, local advisers. Though money will be flowing like water, and professional “volunteers” will be pouring in from around the country, it will be the involvement of dedicated grass-roots activists that will decide these races. Commercials and attack ads can’t compete with neighbors passionately advocating for or against a candidate. For those concerned about gun rights, the core grass-roots group in Virginia is the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League and their VCDL-PAC at www.vcdl.org. We will also be tracking the election closely on our www.GunVoter.org site.