Modern Problems

The It Factor in Virginia’s Governor’s Race: Modernity

In a winnable race between unpalatable candidates, the modernity gap is costing the GOP. By Lloyd Green.

If the Republicans lose control of the Virginia statehouse, blame it on the modernity gap. The question isn’t whether the Republicans are reconciled to the 21st century, but whether they have come to grips with the last 50 years.

Modern people worry more about jobs and incomes than about private consensual sex, the role that religious faith plays in health, or even birth defects. But right now, the Republican ticket of incumbent Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the Rev. E. W. Jackson Sr. seems mostly worried about sex and religion.

No wonder then that Cuccinelli and Jackson are lagging among college graduates, voters with incomes above $100,000, and women when pitted against with former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe and state Sen. Ralph Northam. The race is still tight, although the McAuliffe-Northam ticket is ahead in most polls, but not all.

Cuccinelli and Jackson’s problems with Virginia’s upper-middle class and wealthy are self-created. Just last November, Mitt Romney actually won the votes of high-end Virginians. Clearly, modernity matters.

Something has changed, and that something is the candidates. Bluntly, they scare people. Paying lip-service to birthers, clamoring for the enforcement of sodomy laws, and comparing the anti-abortion movement to the 19th-century abolitionists on the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, as Cuccinelli has, is guaranteed to give swing-voters pause.

Similarly, writing that birth and genetic defects are the wages of sin, arguing that prayer and meditation can alter the course of a storm, or disregarding the link between cancer and genetics, as the Rev. Jackson does in his 2008 book, Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life, are not paths to the center. Jackson has posited that “rebellion against God … has brought about birth defects.” Channeling his inner Pat Robertson, Jackson declared that “you can rebuke the storms in your life,” and amplified his statement to encompass “weather patterns.” Jackson also admonishes the reader “not to say to herself or others that she expects to die of the same disease which took the life of her mother and grandmother.”

Cuccinelli and Jackson should at least try to sound more even-tempered, as old-time religion lacks the sway it once had, with church attendance becoming the province of wealthier, educated suburbanites who take their religion less flame-broiled, but their core beliefs no less seriously. Indeed, against this emerging reality, the Rev. Jackson’s earlier call for Christians to “abandon” the Democratic Party is a non-starter. It didn’t happen on Election Day 2012, and it won’t happen this year either.

All of this is affecting Republican efforts in Virginia, where the GOP trails McAuliffe & Co. in fundraising, and McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli by more than $3 million in cash-on-hand. To be clear, this is not simply a matter of money. Rather, it is about Republican candidates offending folks, both inside and outside Virginia.

As reported by Bloomberg, 15 of Republican incumbent Gov. Bob McDonnell’s top 25 individual donors are either sitting on the sidelines or working to thwart Cuccinelli. Virginia Beach developer Bruce Thompson previously backed McDonnell, but has now donated $25,000 to McAuliffe. According to Thompson, “Cuccinelli’s very hard stance on some of the social issues is a concern.” That sentiment was echoed by Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association: “I’m an employer in Virginia, and Cuccinelli terrifies me.”

Given that Barack Obama carried Virginia twice, and that the Old Dominion has a new cast of Democrats (both U.S. senators are Democrats), all this would seem to be a formula for an anti-Cuccinelli-Jackson landslide. But there’s just one thing that may bring Cuccinelli to the governor’s mansion: Terry McAuliffe.

Victory somehow remains doable for Team Cuccinelli, with Virginia’s voters telling pollsters that Cuccinelli’s experience is better suited for governor than McAuliffe’s, and half of Virginia’s voters having not yet formed an opinion of McAuliffe. In political terms, McAuliffe, who has never been elected to anything, is a canvas waiting to be filled in.

As for McAuliffe’s business ventures, he sits atop a heap of wreckage, having profited from ties to disgraced former House speaker Jim Wright, disgraced former House Democratic whip Tony Coelho, and now-bankrupt telecommunications company Global Crossing.

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McAuliffe’s latest venture, GreenTech Automotive, was touted to produce 400,000 cars, and 10,000 jobs, mostly in Virginia.

GreenTech’s actual record, however, is quite different. After having secured a $5 million loan from the state of Mississippi, GreenTech has managed to produce only 100 cars and 100 jobs, most of which are in Mississippi. GreenTech may also be snared in a federal investigation concerning possible improprieties in connection with a visa issued to Gulf Coast Funds Management LLC, a company that raised capital for GreenTech, and which, by the strangest coincidence, is run by Hillary Clinton’s brother, Anthony Rodham. McAuliffe, not surprisingly, has no comment.

Still, Cuccinelli has shown his own tropism toward the kindness of strangers. He owns stock in Star Scientific and received gifts from its principal, and for its part, the company is tied to a payola scandal plaguing Virginia’s present governor.

Then again, perhaps, Cuccinelli was just taking his running mate’s advice. Jackson wrote that he was obligated to accept a $6,000 fur coat donated by a congregant because doing otherwise “would have deprived her and the ministry of tremendous blessings.” What Virginia voter wouldn’t want that mindset in the Richmond state capitol?

Right now, it is difficult to see if either ticket stands to be the beneficiary of God’s favor, as both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe are stuck with 30 percent favorability ratings. Still, modernity matters, and unless McAuliffe is proven to be way more tainted, and Cuccinelli can address those things that matter to most people, Cuccinelli and Jackson may be left to brood about life’s unfairness, like modern-day Jobs.