Politics

11.02.13

Ken Cuccinelli Wants You to Know that the Polls Don't Matter

Behind by a large margin in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and with only a few days until voters go the polls, the GOP firebrand has turned to the rhetoric of losing candidates.

For the final weekend of the Virginia gubernatorial campaign, both Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, and Ken Cuccinelli—his Republican competitor—are crossing the state to close their arguments and galvanize their supporters. As a reporter in D.C., it would be easy enough to make the 30 minute drive into Northern Virginia and watch both candidates do their business. But Virginia is a state of many regional flavors, and I was curious to see if either campaign’s rhetoric varied from area to area. And so, early this morning, I made my way to the Richmond area for a “Get Out the Vote” rally for Cuccinelli at the campaign’s Chesterfield “Victory office.”

The drive to Central Virginia isn’t long, and benefits from excellent scenery. Here, fall doesn’t just happen, it plows through and announces its presence. The route is dense with foliage, all splashed in vivid hues of burgundy, gold, and amber. Chesterfield isn’t the most vibrant area of Virginia, and I was expecting a small event in the bare parking lot of a suburban strip mall. The “rally” was small—just a few dozen people, including teenagers and one U.Va student in a blue blazer and orange pants—but the organizers had found the nicest office I’ve ever seen: A colonial-style building—in a complex of similar offices—next to a small, presumably affluent neighborhood of just few homes.

Cuccinelli was a little late for the event, and as the crowd waited, an organizer asked everyone to gather near the “stage,” which was just a mic, two speakers, and a sedan-sized “Cuccinelli for Virginia” sign. I used the time to speak to Dick Webb, a retired engineer and former globe-trotter who alternated between high praise for the attorney general—“This was a guy who founded a campus organization to stop rape, how could he be against women?”—and stories of his time abroad. “I once spent seven months in Italy,” he told me, “Living in the heart of the communist labor movement. I learned a lot of lessons, and even brought one of my co-workers back to the states to show him what America was really like.”

Dick had knocked on dozens of doors for Cuccinelli, and was convinced that—if he could just sit you down and give you the facts—you’d have no reason not to support the gubernatorial candidate. “He’s honest and ethical,” Dick said, “the right man for the job.”

After introductions from Pat Mullins—current chairmen of the Virginia Republican Party—and a local activist, Cuccinelli took the mic with his wife, Teiro. Clad in a campaign casual of oversized jeans, a blue oxford button-down, and a navy blazer—thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, no one had to layer up—Cuccinelli began with the usual barrage of attacks on Terry McAuliffe, who he dismissed as unethical, unscrupulous, and untrustworthy. “We don’t want his D.C. and Chicago politics in Virginia,” he said to the crowd.

“We all know polls are meaningless at this point."

These were core supporters and this was red meat; a long list of anti-McAuliffe complaints and declarations of conservative bona fides. “[McAuliffe] didn’t think Obamacare was big enough; I tried to stop it immediately,” explained Cuccinelli, emphasizing his opposition to both spending and Obamacare, “and as you might expect, Terry says more government without having any idea of how it works.” He went down the list, hitting McAuliffe for his scandals, union relationships, and cozy relationship to business interests. Under McAuliffe, Cuccinelli warned, the state’s coal mines would be shutdown and poor Virginians would lose thousands of jobs.

Since this was a rally with a purpose, Cuccinelli emphasized the importance of getting out the vote. “We don’t need to convince anyone else,” he said, “we just need to turn them out.” What's more, he asked his supporters not to pay attention to the polls, “We all know polls are meaningless at this point,” he said, “They all show one or two point margins.”

The crowd ate this up, but the truth is that only losing candidates talk like this, and if the actual polls are any indication, Cuccinelli is on his way to defeat. According to the Real Clear Politics average, McAuliffe leads by 7.5 points. It’s possible for that lead dissipate in the final days of the campaign, but it’s not likely. And Cuccinelli’s running mate—E.W. Jackson, who was also out this morning with a sparsely attended rally in Virginia Beach—is almost certain to lose in a landslide to his opponent, State Senator Ralph Northam.

Ken Cuccinelli Supporters in Richmond
Jamelle Bouie

The only competitive race on the ballot is the attorney general contest, which pits Republican State Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrison against Democratic State Senator Mark Herring of Fairfax County. But, so far, Herring has been able to tar Obenshain—a staunch social conservative himself—as an extremist in the mold of Cuccinelli, giving him a small lead.

Virginia Republicans will have a painful Tuesday next week. The only question is whether they’ll deal with it by changing course, or follow the self-destructive lead of their GOP colleagues in Washington.