Outlook: Likely Democratic
The election of 2013 can be summed up with some very simple numbers.
In 2001, Mark Warner averaged a net +31% in favorability over unfavorability ratings as he ran for Governor. He won by 5%. Many people who liked Warner didn't end up voting for him but helped him form a strong base of support while he was Governor.
In 2005, Tim Kaine averaged a net +24% in favorability over unfavorability ratings in his race for Governor. He won by 6%.
In 2013, Terry McAuliffe is averaging a -7% in favorability versus unfavorability. Yes, a *negative* 7%. But he is leading in polling by a wider margin than Warner or Kaine and looks to win the largest margin for any Democrat for Governor since Gerry Bailies in 1985. In fact- he may even break that record (just over 10%) for the biggest Democratic win for Governor in the modern era.
How could this be? It's because this years election isn't about the Democrats or Terry McAuliffe. It is solely about Ken Cuccinelli. Voters have decided to reject his candidacy and they don't seem to care about McAuliffe- even voters that say they dislike Terry are favoring him by massive margins when they say they also dislike Cuccinelli.
So why are voters rejecting Cuccinelli now after he three times won a State Senate seat in Fairfax and won the Attorney General's office in a landslide?
That answer is more complex but it comes down to one simple thing. When you are a statewide official and a candidate for Governor, voters tend to learn not only your name but a little bit about you in office. They may not study every decision or follow each move, but they do watch. Here's a review of what they saw over the last 4 years:
* Cooch sues a state university to get info on a climate scientist (and he's a climate change denier). University forced to hire private council and Cooch loses
* Cooch changes state seal in flag pin to staff, covers up the exposed boob
* Cooch tells colleges it is ok to discriminate against gays and lesbians and they need to remove those protections they have passed. Gov. McDonnell has to step in.
* Cooch isn't sure if the President was born in the US
* Cooch is for General Assembly bill that requires women to get a probe placed in their vagina if they want to get an abortion. Gov has to step in again.
* Cooch sues to stop health care law signed by President that Virginia voted for (and did again in 2012)
On top of all of that, put the Star Scientific stuff this year on top of Cuccinelli's staff giving advice to a private energy company in SW Virginia (and being rebuked by a federal judge and the state Inspector General) and the reports of Ken losing a court battle over SODOMY- and it is clear the public has reached their breaking point with Cooch. Nothing has changed in his politics- but the public awareness has- and there is now virtually no path forward for Ken to win this race. Amazingly, the public doesn't even seem to care about McAuliffe- they may not like him but he is almost a non factor in their voting decision. This is unlike anything we have ever seen in an election for Governor.
The McAuliffe campaign's strategy of sitting back and allowing Ken to implode has been a very good one- but may not be helpful to McAuliffe as he becomes Governor and has to deal with a strongly GOP House of Delegates. Members there were unmoved even by a fairly popular Governor Kaine, and will be even less likely to cooperate with McAuliffe with his lack of strong public support.
One final point on Cuccinelli. He knew his politics were divisive and caused him to lose public support as he saw it on a lower level in the State Senate. Winning his first election with 55%, then falling to 53% and finally winning with under 51%, Cooch knew he had to move up statewide because otherwise he was going to be moving out of office. Knowing that, he believed he had more margin to work with statewide and this strategy of constantly pushing right wing stuff in people's faces would turn out his base and be successful. Instead the opposite has happened- not only is Ken going to lose- but his loss will be held up inside the Virginia GOP as a reason to never nominate someone like him again.
Governor Terry McAuliffe. Get used to it.