Does Terry McAuliffe Stand a Chance?


I argued yesterday that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli—the Virginia GOP’s right-wing nominee for governor—is likely to win the state’s gubernatorial election, for reasons of turnout. Barring a strong mobilization effort from Democrat Terry McAuliffe, there will be far fewer voters in November’s election, and the majority will Republican. If Cuccinelli can avoid serious mistakes, he’ll have an easy path to victory.

If the latest poll from NBC News is any indication, this judgment may have been premature. NBC finds a tight contest in the commonwealth, with McAuliffe winning 43 percent of registered voters to Cuccinelli’s 41 percent, and 16 percent saying their undecided. McAuliffe has relatively poor name recognition, which gives him room to grow—with a strong campaign, he can overcome the built-in disadvantages of the landscape. Likewise, McAuliffe may also benefit from the GOP’s poor approval ratings in Virginia—53 percent say they have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party.

If McAuliffe has a problem, besides the general composition of the electorate, it’s that voters aren’t as convinced of Cuccinelli’s extremism as pundits are. Only 27 percent of Virginians say they have an unfavorable opinion of the attorney general or think he’s “too conservative," and 39 percent say his ideology is “just right.” Cuccinelli leads McAuliffe in questions of identity—“Who better understands people like yourself” and “Who shares your values”—and on the critical question of who would “do the best” for Virginia.

In the New Republic this morning, Nate Cohn argues that in non-presidential years, Virginia is a lean Republican state. Population growth might change that assessment, but for now, it’s absolutely correct. Terry McAuliffe has a steep hill to climb if he wants to succeed Bob McDonnell as governor, and it’s still not clear that he can do it.