Will Virginia’s off-year electoral curse finally fall?


Governor Terry McAuliffe in Charlottesville. File photo. Governor Terry McAuliffe in Charlottesville. File photo.
The Odd Dominion is a regular Virginia political opinion column from C-VILLE contributor Dan Catalano.
If there’s one thing that every political junkie in the Commonwealth knows, it is this: Whichever party currently holds the White House will never see the inside of Virginia’s Executive Mansion. This has been the case, without fail, since 1977, when Republican John Dalton was elected governor in the wake of Jimmy Carter’s post-Watergate presidential victory.
But as with all predictive trends of this sort, the streak is only as good as the last election (in this case, when Bob McDonnell trounced his Democratic opponent Creigh Deeds exactly one year after Barack Obama won the presidency). Now, with the 2013 statewide elections only two months away, many experts are speculating that Virginia’s fabled “White House curse” might finally lift, allowing Democrat Terry McAuliffe to best Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the gubernatorial gladiator ring. The reasons?
Demographics. Like the country as a whole, Virginia’s percentage of white residents (and voters) is gradually shrinking, and a larger percentage of the electorate is now made up of suburban, college-educated moderates. As recently detailed in The New York Times, the national percentage of whites voting in midterm elections has fallen from 91 percent in 1990 to 78 percent in 2010. This trend is mirrored in Virginia, where Democrats are optimistically predicting that white voters will make up only 75 percent of the 2013 vote. Even more worrisome for Republicans, McAuliffe’s campaign claims that 35 percent of that vote will come from the left-leaning suburbs surrounding Washington, D.C.
Republican fratricide. The one thing a candidate wants to avoid at all costs is friendly fire. Unfortunately for Ken Cuccinelli, the number of fellow Republicans willing to lambast him on the record (and even endorse McAuliffe, as GOP strategist Boyd Marcus recently did) is growing by the day. Chief among these voices has been Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who saw his own dreams of becoming governor evaporate after Cuccinelli unexpectedly entered the race. Last week Bolling told the website Real Clear Politics “I have concerns about Cuccinelli’s ability to effectively and responsibly govern our state, and because of those concerns, I have not been comfortable endorsing his candidacy.” Ouch.
Nonstop scandals. We’ve written extensively about the ongoing troubles of both Cuccinelli and Governor McDonnell in relation to big-money businessman Jonnie Williams, but the last few weeks have added even more fuel to that fire, with the revelation that McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, secretly bought thousands of shares of stock in Williams’ company, Star Scientific, while simultaneously promoting the company’s products. Add to that recent revelations that Cuccinelli’s office attempted to squash the release of inappropriate e-mails from an assistant AG to lawyers representing two energy companies embroiled in a lawsuit over natural gas royalties in Southwest Virginia, and you start to imagine the words “scandal-plagued” hovering in front of Cuccinelli’s name every time you see it in print.
But will this be enough to break the curse? Well, a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing McAuliffe with a six point lead over the Cooch definitely has the Macker’s backers feeling giddy. But curses are powerful things, so who knows? In the end, only the mercurial voters of Virginia can decide whether or not this decades-long streak will come to an end.