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Rothenberg: Who Is Least Likely to Lose the Virginia Gubernatorial Race?

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
McAuliffe, above, is expected to face Cuccinelli in Virginia’s gubernatorial race this year.

Republicans also worry whether Cuccinelli will be able to raise the money he will need to win in November. They are nervous that the party’s reliable contributors from the Richmond and Northern Virginia business communities, who would have preferred the party nominate Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, will be less than entirely comfortable with the attorney general.

Bolling dropped his bid for the GOP nomination after Cuccinelli’s allies in the state party replaced a primary with a convention, all but eliminating any chance that Bolling could win. While most insiders are skeptical that the lieutenant governor will mount an independent bid, his threat to do so reflects his anger at how things developed and shows Cuccinelli’s willingness to use a jackhammer when a fly swatter will do.

In an effort to pull defeat from the jaws of victory, Democrats will nominate former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have a few things in common. They both are politically ambitious. Both are Catholic, and each has a large family (Cuccinelli has seven children, McAuliffe five). Each has a law degree (Cuccinelli from George Mason, McAuliffe from Georgetown), and neither man is a native Virginian — McAuliffe was born in New York, while Cuccinelli was born in New Jersey. But McAuliffe is the smooth, glad-handing, back-slapping, story-telling political insider that Cuccinelli is not.

Though McAuliffe is engaging and entertaining, some will regard him as a caricature of a politician: an overly slick, wealthy insider who wants to be elected to some office — any office — merely to validate his importance, extend his influence and satisfy his own ego.

The former DNC chairman served as co-chairman of President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign and chairman of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s, and he is widely regarded as more comfortable mining the offices of K Street and the restaurants of the nation’s capital for campaign contributions than relating to average folks in Culpepper County or Southwest Virginia.

McAuliffe has also done something that Cuccinelli never has: lost an election. The Democratic hopeful ran a surprisingly weak second in the 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary, even though numerous polls showed him as the clear front-runner just three weeks out.

One veteran political strategist argued that McAuliffe’s numbers sank the more he appeared on television, speculating that Virginia voters simply liked him less the more they saw him.

Supporters of Cuccinelli, who is running even with McAuliffe in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, argue that he will have plenty of resources, in part, because both the Republican Governors Association and the Republican National Committee will make sure of that. And they note that going back to 1977, Virginia voters have elected the governor from the party not holding the White House, a trend that favors the Republican nominee this time.

Both assertions are true. But they may be irrelevant. Virginia, you see, is changing.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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