Monday, 4 November 2013

Why Virginia could spell trouble for Hillary and the Dems

On the face of it, close confidant of the Clintons and Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe's likely victory in tomorrow's election should be good news for his former bosses and the party he represents.  But a big McAuliffe win could well prove to be a double-edged sword, particularly for Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions.

Both of the Clintons have campaigned for the old friend in the Dominion, with Hillary making her first political appearance and speech since her retirement as Secretary of State at a McAuliffe event.  But McAuliffe winning comfortably against Republican candidate and arch-conservative Ken Cuccinelli could paradoxically spell bad news for Hillary.

Conservative republican activists, including the Tea Party faction, who have largely dominated the Republican primary process (an who in Virginia managed to change the GOP gubernatorial selection in Virginia from a primary to a convention in order to ensure that their man Cuccinelli got the nomination) have yet to fully absorb the reasons for Mitt Romney's defeat by President Obama last year.  Their reaction has been reminiscent of the British Labour Party's response to Thatcher's election victory in 1979: a belief that their loss was as a result of a lack of ideological purity.  Mitt Romney, so their narrative goes, was not a true conservative.  If only they could have a true ('severely') conservative candidate, then the American people would respond to their message and the latent conservatism of America would show up at the ballot box on Election Day.

Well, in Virginia they got what they wanted in their candidate: a staunch conservative who has unflinching positions on abortion (akin to slavery), gay marriage and even supports bans on anal and oral sex between consenting adults of whatever sexual orientation.  He's up against a Democrat who carries a lot of baggage in all sorts of ways (having been described as both a carpet-bagger and the Clintons' bag man) who has been involved in some questionable financial dealings in a state where it is a long-standing tradition to elect a Governor from the party not in the White House.  In short, McAuliffe, like Obama last year, should have been beatable.

Ken Cuccinelli: Let me show you what you shouldn't be doing.

The result, however, is an average McAuliffe poll lead of 7 points (though it should be noted there is a Libertarian candidate in the race polling on average 10%, indicating voters' dissatisfaction with both of the other candidates and an incumbent GOP governor facing his own scandal).

Compare this with New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie is on course for a victory margin of 20-30% against the poorly funded Democratic candidate Barbara Buono.  Christie, while a conservative (eg. he vetoed a gay marriage bill), has been successful in portraying an image of pragmatism and willingness to work with Democrats where necessary (think of his literal embrace of Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy just before last year's election) and it has coasted him to victory in a traditionally Democratic state.

Chris Christie's ample embrace.

 From a Democratic perspective, the best possible result would be a relatively narrow McAuliffe win (say 3-4%), that would allow the Tea Partiers to carry on with the delusion, and for Barbara Buono to do better than expected against Christie, undermining his claims to have appeal across the aisle.  My hunch, however, is that McAuliffe's margin is likely to be double that just mentioned, and that Christie will win by about 30%.

Could tomorrow's elections finally provide the wake-up call that conservative Republicans need to demonstrate that they shouldn't sacrifice the good for the perfect (i.e. focus on electability rather than purity)?

I wouldn't count on it, though the recent polling shows that by a 9 percentage point margin (49-40) Republicans disapproved of the conduct of the Tea Party-affiliated GOP congressmen during the shut-down.  The big question is will those antics and tomorrow's likely results be enough to incentivize them to go out and take back control of their Party from an ideological fringe movement.

If the answer is yes, than as I previously blogged, Hillary's run at the presidency in 2016 just got a whole lot harder, and by campaigning for Terry McAuliffe, she may well partly have herself to blame.  Perhaps she would have been better served in throwing her weight behind Barbara Buono in New Jersey, than her old mate Terry in Virginia?

2130 UPDATE:  Public Policy Polling has just tweeted that 25% of Virginia Republicans think that if Cuccinelli loses it will be because he is not conservative enough.  The VA electorate see the folly of the nomination, but the GOP base think he was still the right candidate by 40%-36%.  Perhaps I overestimate the capacity of Republicans to learn the right lessons.

No comments: