Life in Virginia continues to disappoint when it comes to politics, for both Democrats and Republicans. Watching the gubernatorial election results trickle in last Tuesday night reminded me of that fact. Neither the governor’s race, nor the lieutenant governor’s race should have been this close, even with such uninspiring candidates. The fact that it was, however, says more about our electorate than it does about the candidates.
Despite Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s record-breaking fundraising and youth registration campaign, he edged out Republican Ken Cuccinelli by just three percentage points. Anyone remotely familiar with the events leading up to Tuesday should have expected a larger lead, particularly with media outlets declaring McAuliffe being leading Cuccinelli by 10 percent in the preceding week, as well as the mounting distrust of Cuccinelli by minorities and women voters.
By all rights, McAuliffe should have won handily; after all, he received the endorsement of a number of noteworthy officials, including President Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder. Candidates should be able to stand and inspire on their own without summoning the likes of former president Clinton and President Obama; the fact that McAuliffe didn’t paint Virginia blue with such spectacular endorsements signals a critical problem for the state’s future.
McAuliffe didn’t win; he’s just the biggest loser, a statement ringing true for all Democrats statewide and nationally as well. His “victory” over Cuccinelli does not represent a Democratic party triumph, so much as it represents a Republican party loss.
If a Democrat runs against a Republican candidate who touts a record and agenda diametrically and categorically opposed to the majority of the populace’s ideology, the victory should be a landslide, not a paltry three percentage points. The last Democrat to inspire Virginia voters en masse, President Obama, now has a 39 percent approval rating, according to the latest Gallup poll. If we’re to treat elections as indicator events, Democrats ought not misinterpret this election as an affirmation of whatever they perceive to be success. The Democratic party, at both the state and national level, needs to convene and decide what they are for and how they plan to lead through office, rather than tell constituents they are against what Republicans are for.
The McAuliffe campaign, particularly when engaging students on college campuses, should have had a level of substance beyond puns about oral sex or even the very serious dangers and restrictions women would have faced under a Cuccinelli-governorship. If future Democratic candidates wish to genuinely win an election in Virginia, they’ll have to have genuine positions on the issues that matter, as well as some nuanced ideas about how to resolve whatever crisis faces us.
But Republicans shouldn’t take the loss too hard. The new trend in America, if New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s re-election is any indication, is to run pragmatic, compassionate conservatives instead of social conservatives like Cuccinelli. Unlike with McAuliffe, voters genuinely voted for Cuccinelli, whether out of habit or out of belief in his ability to address the problems Virginia faces.
Let’s celebrate what happened last week for what it truly was: a hollow victory, a statement defining the political culture governing this state and a condemnation of social conservatism and infusing Gingrich-era culture war-esque diversionary issues into politics.
Last Tuesday was about a small majority of Virginians saying “no” to a gubernatorial representative ironically perceived to be “big government.” The stumbling leadership at both the state and national level have given Americans little to be appreciative of and it’s time to change the narrative and reevaluate our body politic.