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Hard Lessons in Virginia
Ken Cuccinelli’s rough ride may have lessons big and small for the GOP.

Ken Cuccinelli at an October 25 debate.

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Jim Geraghty

Barring one of the great all-time upsets, Terry McAuliffe will beat Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia’s governor’s race today. If that result comes to pass, it will reflect some hard lessons for the candidate and the state party:

The first and most basic lesson for future Republican candidates: Quit your day jobs. Ten of Virginia’s previous eleven elected attorneys general have run for governor; nine of them resigned upon the launch of their campaigns, usually with about a year left in their term.

Cuccinelli didn’t do that. In a letter to his staff, he attributed his decision to remain in office to the fact that “the people of Virginia trusted me to be their attorney general, and I intend to give them four full years.”

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The editorial board of the Washington Post, already one of Cuccinelli’s most consistent critics, declared that his decision not to resign “further politicize[s] his office, adding a partisan cast to every significant move it makes.” The editorial board’s first passion is denouncing conservative Republicans who have the audacity to win office within their circulation area, but had they actually aimed to persuade Cuccinelli, they might have simply pointed out that remaining as attorney general hurt his odds of winning.

Asked about the time squeeze and juggling the duties in a July interview, Cuccinelli said his campaign staff knew that his duties as attorney general always came first. The prioritization was noble but ultimately a mistake. Running for statewide office, especially when running against a legendary fundraiser like McAuliffe, is a full-time job. 

As of Friday, Cuccinelli raised $19.7 million; McAuliffe raised $34.4 million. You cannot get outraised by $15 million and hope to win a statewide race.

As a result, Cuccinelli lost the air war by a wide margin:

Outside groups did what they could for Cuccinelli, but liberal or anti-Cuccinelli groups outspent them considerably. Four of the top five groups running television ads were targeting Cuccinelli:

Note that the Democratic Governors Association focused all of its efforts on McAuliffe, and did not spend any money in New Jersey, where Democrat Barbara Buono always trailed Republican incumbent Chris Christie, while the Republican Governors Association spent $1.7 million helping Christie. The Republican Governors Association spent $8 million helping Cuccinelli, and the DGA spent $6.5 million. 



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