Not too long after a recent campaign shake-up, it appears that Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli may just be catching back up to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. In a recent article, I provided detailed information that flew in the face of the other political pundits, and now I think I will do it again.
In my column Why The Latest Virginia Governor Poll Is McAuliffe (D) 45%, Cuccinelli (R) 38%, we reviewed polling conducted before and after a barrage of media bias – which of course, depicted Cuccinelli as a corrupt extremist – to conclude that the scandal surrounding Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was not at all the cause of McAuliffe’s surge. Gov. Bob McDonnell currently has an approval rating of 49%, which in truth is the lowest measurement he has enjoyed, but not such a complete rebuke of the governor’s administration that Cuccinelli is uncontrollably damned by it.
We also took a look at the claim made by Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley at University of Virginia Center for Politics – which says McAuliffe successfully painted Cuccinelli as “scary” – and also concluded that was not exactly accurate.
They are wrong because McAuliffe hasn’t managed to do anything, in fact, he is a rather incompetent candidate. But in the era of journalistic character assassination we are in, that doesn’t matter much. Prior to the coordinated media attack that began in May, Cuccinelli was ahead by upwards of 10 points, which you can read more about here. At his highest, Democrat Terry McAuliffe was enjoying a 20-point reversal as a result, but that lead has been dwindling by the day. Let’s take a look inside the numbers, starting with the latest average of polls.
|Average of Polls
|9/3 – 9/16
|9/9 – 9/15
|9/9 – 9/15
|9/15 – 9/16
|9/6 – 9/10
|9/3 – 9/4
|8/23 – 8/28
As we can see, the average still has McAuliffe ahead by 4.2%, but such is the nature of polling data that these numbers are not reflective of the clear trend that has been emerging. McAuliffe has been shedding support throughout the entire month of September. However, the numbers have several inconsistencies and can be a bit confusing at first glance.
Neither of these candidates are well-liked, at all. Cuccinelli once out-paced McAuliffe in favorability, but now trails him on the question. But never has McAuliffe bested Cuccinelli on the BBQ or beer questions, and despite his high unfavorables, Cuccinelli still wins the “who would you rather hangout with” contest.
In the latest Roanoke College poll, both candidates are underwater in terms of favorable/unfavorable ratings, with Cuccinelli seen by 28% as favorable and McAuliffe seen by 27% as favorable. Even though Cuccinelli is seen in a more unfavorable light, there is some sign that Virginia voters are tiring of McAuliffe campaign attacks, as the latest Quinnipiac poll shows.
|TREND: What do you think Terry McAuliffe is spending more time doing in his campaign, explaining what he would do if elected Governor or attacking Ken Cuccinelli?
LIKELY VOTERS Sep 18 Aug 21 2013 2013 Explaining 19 25 Attacking 68 56 DK/NA 13 19
The same is true for Ken Cuccinelli, but the same level of intensity is not present for him as is the case with McAuliffe.
|TREND: What do you think Ken Cuccinelli is spending more time doing in his campaign, explaining what he would do if elected Governor or attacking Terry McAuliffe?
LIKELY VOTERS Sep 18 Aug 21 2013 2013 Explaining 24 32 Attacking 60 52 DK/NA 16 16
Again, neither candidate is in a particularly favorable position, but Cuccinelli is strong on the issue of experience, – far stronger than McAuliffe – which may benefit Cuccinelli more in a campaign as negative as this one. If voters feel as if they – the candidates – do not have an adequate plan or grasp on their positions, voters may choose the candidate they view with enough experience for the job.
|TREND: Do you think Ken Cuccinelli has the right kind of experience to be Governor of Virginia or not?
LIKELY VOTERS Sep 18 Aug 21 2013 2013 Yes 58 56 No 34 31 DK/NA 8 13
|TREND: Do you think Terry McAuliffe has the right kind of experience to be Governor of Virginia or not?
LIKELY VOTERS Sep 18 Aug 21 2013 2013Yes 47 46 No 36 34 DK/NA 17 21
But McAuliffe bests Cuccinelli on “understands the problems of people like you” and “honesty and trustworthiness” – but barely on the latter. Dr. Harry Wilson, Director of the Roanoke College Institute for Policy and Opinion Research put it well when he said:
When ‘dishonest’ is the most common response to each, you know the candidates are not generally popular. McAuliffe’s position has certainly improved since the July Roanoke College Poll, but there are still many likely voters who are undecided.
Cuccinelli also has a slight enthusiasm edge in most polls, but that can easily be countered by a superior GOTV effort, as was the case in the 2012 election, when all the polls missed the lack of enthusiasm for Romney and superiority of the Obama GOTV camp. I see hints of this danger in the numbers, because some Republicans – mostly suburban women who are unsure due to media scare tactics, and some Tea Party voters who unbelievably don’t see him as conservative enough – just may stay home to spite themselves.
If Cuccinelli is going to pull off a victory, then there are a few things he must do, because McAuliffe – who is a longtime Clinton machine puppet and Washington insider – will be lent the corrupt Democratic GOTV machine in urban Virginia, specifically Richmond.
He must win a larger amount of independents than polling currently shows he is winning. There are currently more voters who claim to identify with Democrats than Republicans in Virginia, unfortunately. There is good news, however. Many of the undecided voters, for instance the 22% in the Roanoke College poll, are “independents” – well, sort of. What I mean is that many of the “independents” are truly Republican-leaning voters, who quite honestly, are sick of the Republican Party brand.
In the Quinnipiac poll, for instance, I suspect that Sarvis is over-estimated, because third-party candidates typically poll much better than they actually perform on Election Day. Henry Howell’s, who made an independent run in 1973 and won 49.3%, was the only independent or third-party gubernatorial candidate who has done better than Russ Potts’ 2.2% in 2005 in the modern era in Virginia elections. Those voters are libertarian-minded and up for grabs, if not leaning Cuccinelli now.
The best way to appeal to these voters is to underscore his experience, while emphasizing his service to Virginia. The endorsement from the Northern Virginia Tech Council was a big deal, and he should continue to feed the narrative – that McAuliffe is way out of his league – as he had done at the Virginia Summit on Economic Competitiveness and Higher Education, held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Even the liberals at the Washington Post, who have been less than objective in this race, described the speeches as follows:
The speeches themselves fed into the narrative that emerged from the TechPAC flap: that McAuliffe is breezy while Cuccinelli grasps the details and gravity of the job. Both candidates had 45 minutes to address the group. Cuccinelli gave a 39- minute address heavy on wonky details. McAuliffe gave his standard 16-minute stump speech.
If he can motivate center-right independents, who value experience and competence, they will vote for Cuccinelli.
None of this matters – as it relates to messaging discipline – if he doesn’t attack the bias Washington, D.C. media. He must phrase his campaign as one in which a hometown Virginian with experience is defending Virginia against elites who are alternating reality to elect a quintessential Washington insider, whom of which will serve at the behest of Washington, not Virginia. It certainly isn’t a lie, with McAuliffe outspending Cuccinelli in August 2 – 1 using out-of-town money, which will likely be the disparity for the entire campaign. Hillary Clinton will host a second fundraiser on Oct. 15 in New York City, with a private reception costing $25,000 per couple.
I always find it astounding that Republicans allow themselves to be labeled “extremists” when voters – especially voters in Virginia – do not agree with the truly extreme liberal social and fiscal policy, such as the policy McAuliffe will fall in line behind.
Democrats win elections they cannot win on merit by underscoring their advantage on the question, “understands the problems of people like you.” For sometime, Cuccinelli was running a reverse-Obama style campaign, painting McAullife as the elitist out-of-touch businessman who cared little for little Americans in Virginia. And it was working. The troubles plaguing Gov. Bob McDonnell are not the causes for Cuccinelli’s poll collapse months ago. Cuccinelli has a long history of winning races in which he is outspent and underperforming in the polls. He has a chance to turn this around, but he cannot play it safe and, if he truly cared for Virginia as his career suggests he does, then he wouldn’t.