November 3, 2013

Too much tea? Democrats might win Virginia mansion this week

By ANITA KUMAR McClatchy Washington Bureau

HERNDON, Va. — He has no experience in elective office. He founded an electric car company that failed to deliver its promise of thousands of vehicles and hundreds of jobs. By his own admission, he relishes making a buck, even if that involves leaving his crying wife and newborn son in a car to attend a fundraiser or making millions on a bankrupt fiber-optics company that left thousands jobless.

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Candidates for the Virginia governor seat Ken Cuccinelli, left, Terry McAuliffe, center, Robert Sarvis, right, participate in a community forum at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dean Hoffmeyer

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In this Oct. 24, 2013 file photo, Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, speaks in Blacksburg, Va. Women may hold the key in Virginia’s slash-and-burn race for governor, rendering a final judgment on a campaign marked by fights over social issues.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Terry McAuliffe should be losing Tuesday’s election for governor of Virginia. Instead, the Democrat is the front-runner in the only competitive gubernatorial race in the nation this year, where a Democratic victory would have national ramifications.

How could that happen? Simple: Voters dislike the other guy more.

McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Virginia Attorney General and tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, is seen as too conservative on issues from abortion to taxes for a rapidly changing state.

“He’s extreme,” said voter Donna Feeney, the chief financial officer for a law firm, who attended a McAuliffe campaign rally this week in the Washington suburb of Herndon.

“He wants to control everything,” said another voter, Mary Jo Ricci, a substitute teacher and self-described independent who’s turned away from Republican candidates in recent years.

In the last nine elections, the party that was holding the White House has lost the Virginia governor’s mansion. But this year, observers say, the race — which is seen as a bellwether for the 2014 and 2016 elections — indicates that Republicans, at least in some states, are headed in the wrong direction.

“This is a microcosm of what’s going on with the party across the country,” said Tom Davis, a moderate Republican who represented Virginia in the House of Representatives for more than a dozen years and supports Cuccinelli. “It may work in Texas and Utah but does not work in purple states and blue states. It’s just simple math.”

Virginia’s recent and dramatic demographic transformation has shifted its electorate from reliably Republican to deeply divided. Thousands of new residents, many of them Latino and Asian immigrants, have crowded the sprawling suburbs outside the nation’s capital, turning the state into a tossup.

President Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state in more than four decades in 2008, and he won again in 2012. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, but Republicans hold three statewide offices and control the Legislature.

“Virginians really want the practical problem-solver, not the ideologue,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democratic former governor who won a Senate seat last year.

Enter Cuccinelli.

A former state senator who won statewide office four years ago in a landslide, Cuccinelli, 45, is credited with being tea party before there was a tea party. He’s crusaded against Washington and challenged the status quo in Virginia.

He was the first to sue the federal government over the 2010 health care law. He sued the Environmental Protection Agency. He pushed for new restrictions on abortion clinics. He tried to investigate well-known climate scientist Michael Mann, who he said might be engaged in fraud. He told public colleges that they couldn’t pass anti-discrimination policies for gays.

That record might have kept Cuccinelli from the Republican nomination if he’d had to face moderate Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling in a primary. But tea party activists pushed through a change, taking the decision away from statewide Republican voters and giving it to a convention instead, where their organized forces could prevail. Bolling folded.

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