Can Virginia Democrats Salvage a Statewide Victory?

To state the obvious, Republican Bob McDonnell looks increasingly likely to be the next governor of Virginia. McDonnell leads by nine points over Democrat Creigh ...
by | October 12, 2009
 

To state the obvious, Republican Bob McDonnell looks increasingly likely to be the next governor of Virginia. McDonnell leads by nine points over Democrat Creigh Deeds in the latest Washington Post poll, a result that confirms that the Republican has bounced back into a solid lead.

While I can think of at least a few candidates who blew a lead that large in a month, it doesn't happen often. If Deeds loses, will Republicans sweep all three statewide elected offices in Virginia?

Currently, the polls indicate that they will. Republican Bill Bolling leads Democrat Jody Wagner in the race for lieutenant governor. Republican Ken Cuccinelli leads Democrat Steve Shannon in the race for Attorney General. Here's a handy chart of the last four polls, from Public Policy Polling, SurveyUSA, the Washington Post and Mason Dixon, that reported on all three of the races. In each case, the Republican's total is listed first -- because the Republicans consistently lead.

Virginia Polling  

   

However, I still think it's not altogether unlikely that the Democrats will win at least one of the constitutional offices in Virginia. Barring a dramatic turn of events, that candidate won't be Deeds. Bill Bolling is the incumbent lieutenant governor, so it seems quite unlikely he will lose, even though Democrat Jody Wagner is a perfectly capable candidate (she ran a close race for Congress earlier in the decade and then served in top positions in the Mark Warner and Tim Kaine administrations).

That leaves the race for attorney general. And, there are two reasons to suspect that Shannon, a state delegate, has the best chance of anyone on the Democratic ticket.

The first reason is ideology. Cuccinelli, a state senator, is regarded as one of the most conservative legislators in Virginia.

Now, of course, persuading voters of that point won't be an easy task. Democrats refer to just about every Republican as an extreme right winger. Republicans call all Democrats either liberals (increasingly that one is reserved for Blue Dogs) or socialists (anyone to the left of the Blue Dogs).

The parties have cried wolf so often that voters are pretty numb to allegations that candidates are out of the mainstream. At the very least, you need a compelling, relevant, recent example of the candidate's extremism to make an impression with voters. Nonetheless, Shannon could benefit from Cuccinelli's conservatism if he starts racking up a bunch of endorsements. The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce backed Shannon, even as it supported McDonnell.

The second reason, I think, is more important: money. As of last month, Shannon had twice as much campaign cash as Cuccinelli. Unlike in the governor's race, in the downballot races voters still don't know much about the candidates. Opinions could change quite quickly, if Shannon can get his message out and Cuccinelli can't.

That said, there are also two reasons to expect Cuccinelli to win. First of all, he's no slouch. He's won tough elections in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County. He's been very active responding to the Supreme Court's ruling on expert testimony earlier this year, which has helped him seem prepared for the job.

The other reason is that the particular way Deeds is losing is making a Republican sweep much more likely. McDonnell leads in large measure because Republicans are more motivated to vote than Democrats. Facing an electorate that's likely to lean Republican, Shannon remains an underdog.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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