Why Cuccinelli Lost . . . and How We Might Have Won
....McAuliffe won by a very narrow margin, even though polls had shown him with a lead of seven to ten points. The reason? A superior conservative and GOP ground game, a failure of Obama voters to turn out for McAuliffe, and the meltdown of Obamacare over the past two weeks, which closed the race to a statistical dead heat.
Still, Cuccinelli lost a race that he once led. The question is why, and was it ever in the cards for him? There were many factors in the outcome, some of which Cuccinelli could have controlled, and others that were beyond his control.
First, the GOP was divided. Then–attorney general Bob McDonnell and Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling agreed heading into the 2009 election that McDonnell would run for governor first, then Bolling would run for governor in 2013 and McDonnell would back him. Cuccinelli was not a party to this arrangement and never felt bound by it. He chose to run for governor anyway, which was his right. But by changing the nominating process from a primary to a convention, his supporters backed Bolling into a corner (Cuccinelli likely would have won a primary as well), forcing him out of the race. Bolling refused to support Cuccinelli, many of his supporters and donors sat on their hands, and the GOP was hopelessly divided. This stood in stark contrast to the party unity that led to victory four years earlier, and it was a major factor in the outcome. If you want to win, it’s fine to have a heated intramural struggle (certainly Hillary Clinton and Obama did in 2008), but you must mend fences when it is over. The GOP needed everyone on the field to win, and that did not happen...
Second, Cuccinelli was badly outspent. In fact, by being lapped by $15 million, he probably suffered the worst financial disadvantage of any gubernatorial candidate in modern Virginia political history. McAuliffe raised $34.4 million to Cuccinelli’s $19.7 million and in the final weeks was outspending him up to ten to one on television in major markets like Washington, D.C. In 2009 the opposite was the case: Bob McDonnell raised $21 million to Creigh Deeds’s $16 million. McDonnell’s advantage was starker in the closing weeks; in October he outspent Deeds two to one on television.
Cuccinelli’s funding disadvantage was exacerbated by the fact that he had won every previous race in his political career while being heavily outspent. In 2009 his opponent outspent him three to one in the closing weeks, yet Cuccinelli won handily. The same was true in his campaigns for state senate. This created a false belief that his strong grassroots support could overcome losing the air war in a rout. But down-the-ballot races are not the same as being at the top of the ticket. Cuccinelli needed to be more financially competitive with McAuliffe, especially after Labor Day when the race began to slip away....