With three weeks to go before the Virginia governor’s election, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli finds himself trailing former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe by 7-9 points, depending on which poll you cite. That’s a lot of ground to make up in a short period of time, but McAuliffe isn’t throwing in the towel. Far from it. In fact, Cuccinelli has enlisted some high profile conservatives to stump with him these final weeks in order to fire up the base and goose Republican turnout.
So a few hours after Hillary Clinton stumps for Democrat Terry McAuliffe Saturday in Northern Virginia, the Republican will campaign with Mike Huckabee next to Liberty University in the conservative stronghold of Lynchburg.
The former presidential candidate and current Fox News analyst is one of several high-profile, right-wing surrogates coming to the commonwealth during the home stretch. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who became famous as a Fox talking head, will appear with Cuccinelli on Monday. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) comes to Virginia Beach the following Monday.
Cuccinelli has been trailing in the high single-digits in a string of polls. The latest, from NBC/Marist, put McAuliffe ahead by 8 points, 46 percent to 38 percent, with 9 percent backing Libertarian Robert Sarvis.
Cuccinelli’s narrow path to victory depends on galvanized conservatives showing up and low-propensity voters who handed the state to President Barack Obama last year – like African Americans and young women – staying home.
After a scorched-earth contest with tens of millions in negative ads, several polls show that more Virginians view each candidate unfavorably than favorably. With no other big contests on the ballot, Cuccinelli’s team assumes that many who might ordinarily show up to vote will not take the time to cast a ballot for somebody they dislike. That puts a premium on eking out very vote possible from activists.
“It is always natural in an off year in the last few weeks to do everything to turn out your base,” said Cuccinelli strategist Chris LaCivita. “The party that takes its base vote for granted in an off-, off-year loses.”
So Cuccinelli is spending more time with conservative media. This week alone, he defended his staunch opposition to abortion in an interview with Newsmax and talked up his libertarian bona fides to the Washington Times.
And, for everyone else, the campaign is trying to make voting for McAuliffe as unpalatable as possible. A TV ad released Friday, for example, said McAuliffe’s election would mean $1,700 in higher taxes every year.
One interesting angle to the race is the surprising strength being shown in the polls by Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis, who is currently at around 9%. Historically, third party candidates begin to lose support about this point in a campaign as voters begin to come home to the party they usually support. But while in the past, most libertarian supporters were disgruntled Republicans, such is no the case today. Young people are especially attracted to libertarian ideals and they may be more inclined to stick with a Libertarian candidate and vote for him. Also, the young are far more likely to have voted Democrat in the past. Cuccinelli should not count on a late surge of Libertarian supporters coming to his side.
But Cuccinelli is doing all he can to claim his share of Libertarians who may not want to throw away their vote on election day. Not only has he enlisted Rand Paul to stump with him, but he sought and got the endorsement of Paul’s father Ron last week.
This brings the race back to turnout. And Cuccinelli should feel pretty good about that:
Cuccinelli’s team is counting on very low turnout. In 2008, 72 percent of eligible voters showed up and Obama won by 6 points. In 2009, 40 percent of eligible voters turned out and Republican Bob McDonnell won by 17 points. Last year, 72 percent of eligible voters came out for the presidential election and Obama won by 4 points.
Many expect less than 40 percent turnout in 2013.
The bottom line is that the GOP in Virginia should not despair. There are three long weeks to go and several factors working in Cuccinelli’s favor. What the AG needs now more than anything is money. He’s getting killed on the airwaves and outside conservative sources of cash appear to be holding back, not believing he can mount a comeback. Perhaps that will change but unless it does, it won’t matter how excited he can get the base of the party to turn out for him on election day.