Polls say that popular Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican, is trailing former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe in his bid for governor of Virginia. If the polls are correct – or even close to being correct – the blame must rest upon the professional political strategists in the Cuccinelli camp. The only poll that really matters happens on Election Day, of course, but the significant gap in opinion polling between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe at this point cannot be completely discounted. McAuliffe has run a smart campaign so far, and Cuccinelli has not. What’s the key difference? McAuliffe has been reaching out aggressively to his base, while simultaneously offering reassurance to “moderates” in the state. Cuccinelli, on the other hand, has generally ignored a large swath of his base and focused on outreach to the “moderate middle” the experts say swing elections. Their focus on the squishy center is a strategic error that may cost Cuccinelli the election.
In the coming off-off-year elections, Virginia is the single most important race in the country. It is a cage match between a far-left, big-government, political insider with close ties to Barack Obama and the Clintons and a hardline conservative who filed a lawsuit against Obamacare. The race is particularly important to me and the rights community because Cuccinelli has always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment as a fundamental, individual right, while McAuliffe has raised millions of dollars for the most rabidly anti-gun politicians in the country and has vowed to bring the Bloomberg anti-rights agenda to Virginia. After a private meeting with Mayor Bloomberg in New York, McAuliffe posted a list of anti-rights proposals on his website. The list includes reinstatement of the failed, “one-gun-a-month” scheme Virginians recently repealed, criminalizing private firearm transfers and banning standard magazines. You can be sure there will be a significant quid pro quo from Bloomberg and his various subsidiary groups. Do Virginians really want their governor to be in the pocket of Mike Bloomberg?
What is particularly troubling about Cuccinelli’s campaign so far is that it is a total contradiction to his previous races. Historically, Cuccinelli has run as an unapologetic conservative, standing firmly upon constitutional principles of limited government and greater individual liberty and responsibility, as well as adherence to his conservative Catholic religious beliefs. He has never shied from publicly declaring his position on any issue and inviting voters to take him or leave him based on his unambiguous positions. In this campaign he has abandoned this proven approach and shifted to a bland, “moderate,” all-things-to-all-people approach. The Cuccinelli campaign has all of the hallmarks of high-dollar, professional campaign consultants – and it’s a recipe for failure.
Cuccinelli has been an elected official for over a decade. He’s run for office four times, winning each time, including his statewide race for attorney general. His views on contentious social, political and fiscal issues are well-documented and there’s no way that he can undo or un-say anything he has done or said since becoming a public figure. It is true that a governor must take a different approach than a state senator. There is no harm in acknowledging that, nor that some of his views might have matured over the years, but there is no way of hiding from his public past. That being the case, it is foolish for Cuccinelli to avoid the groups and issues that have carried him to this point. The homosexual activists and supporters of taxpayer funded abortion are not going to back off of him if he avoids reaching out to conservative Christian groups. Bloomberg and the Brady Bunch are not going to give him a pass if he doesn’t actively seek support from gun rights organizations. The radical “progressives” are not going to cut him any slack if he doesn’t campaign at tea-party meetings. These are the constituencies that brought Cuccinelli to the dance, and he’d better step up and invite them out on the floor – and get them a little excited – or he’s going to find himself going home alone at the end of the night.
Ken Cuccinelli is a savvy politician and a brilliant, personable guy. His views are a bit more conservative than a lot of folks’, but that is not something new; he’s always been conservative, and he’s still won elections in a very liberal area and statewide in a state that is currently considered very moderate. He’s won because of his conservatism and his ability to reach people at a personal level. His conservatism draws very strong support from that constituency. His personality, which comes across as very rational, thoughtful and reasonable, reassures moderates that this is not the crazy man depicted in the negative campaign ads. Cuccinelli has the ability to win friends in unlikely places – like union halls – and he needs to be doing that as much as possible, but much more importantly, he needs to be reaching out to his base and energizing conservatives.
Meanwhile, conservatives and pro-rights advocates who are already energized – whether for Cuccinelli and for gun rights, or against McAuliffe, Bloomberg and big government – can get involved by contributing money, talking about the race with friends, writing letters to the editor, posting information on Facebook and Twitter and knocking on doors for those who live in or near Virginia. This is a race that matters. Hopefully, Cuccinelli will get his campaign back on track and Virginia voters will wake up to the clear and critical choice they have to make.