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Virginia Governor's race could be a danger sign for Republicans

Then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe speaks at the DNC headquarters April 26, 2004 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A new Quinnipiac University poll released today in the 2013 Virginia Governor election puts Democrat Terry McAuliffe six points ahead of his Republican rival, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The poll margin for McAuliffe is 48-42. These results could be a warning sign for Republicans around the country, for a number of reasons:

The Republican gender gap
Among women voters, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli by 50 to 38 percent. This gap is surely at least in part due to Cuccinelli’s anti-abortion stance, and Virginia's new law forcing women seeking legal abortions to undergo an ultrasound procedure. Some critics even called the invasive transvaginal ultrasounds originally proposed in Virginia “state-sanctioned rape.” These are the same types of policies regarding abortion, rape and contraception that lost Republicans such as U.S. Senate candidates Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock so many votes in the 2012 elections. Pundits even coined the term “War on Women” to describe these Republican policies that angered many women and concerned men. Likewise, Cuccinelli recently attempted to revive Virginia's decades-old anti-sodomy "Crimes Against Nature" law, which had been declared unconstitutional, in a move seen as part of Cuccinelli's anti-gay position.

The Republican Party Civil War
There have been repeated examples this year of the civil war taking place in the Republican Party. On one side are establishment Republicans such as U.S. Senators John McCain, Lamar Alexander and Richard Burr, who oppose President Obama and the Democrats but recognize the need to move forward on the business of America, including keeping the federal government open. On the other side are “Tea Party” Republicans such as U.S. Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz and Congressman Mike Lee, who refuse to compromise on anything and would be happy to see the federal government shut down, even though doing so would likely hurt Republicans more. Many of these Tea Party Republicans are also fixated on divisive social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Cuccinelli is considered part of this Tea Party right wing, at the very time where Virginia is perhaps becoming a more moderate state. Indeed, President (then candidate) Barack Obama’s win in Virginia in the 2008 election was the first time in decades that a Democratic Presidential candidate has won in Virginia.

One sign that this Republican civil war is affecting the Virginia Governor’s race is that long-time Republican strategist Boyd Marcus has endorsed Terry McAuliffe. Marcus, who previously advised Virginia Congressman and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, told the Associated Press yesterday that “Terry is the clear choice for mainstream conservatives.” According to Marcus, “I was looking at the candidates, and I saw Terry McAuliffe as the guy who will work with everybody to get things done.”

The Virginia Republican gift scandal
Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is currently embroiled in a scandal in which he and his family members accepted lucrative gifts from the CEO of Star Scientific, Inc. without fully disclosing them, in apparent violation of Virginia law. Ken Cuccinelli also accepted similar gifts, although the amount was less, and also failed to disclose them fully. McDonnell may even face criminal charges for his actions, with further accusations being raised that he aided Star Scientific in exchange for the gifts. It appears that Cuccinelli is being harmed in this scandal both directly by his own actions, and indirectly by McDonnell’s troubles.

McAuliffe also led Cuccinelli in the Quinnipiac poll in the category of “understanding of the problems of people like you.” Cuccinelli was upside down in that category, with only 37 percent of respondents saying he understands their problems and 51 percent saying he doesn’t. McAuliffe, though also upside down in the category, fared better at 38-42 percent. Likewise, while neither candidate scored high in likeability, McAuliffe beat Cuccinelli overall with a slightly positive spread of 34 percent favorable/33 percent negative ratings versus Cuccinelli’s 35 favorable/41 unfavorable. Additionally, Cuccinelli scored upside down on trustworthiness, with 42 percent saying he is trustworthy and 43 percent saying he isn’t, while McAuliffe again came out slightly positive on trustworthiness, 39 to 36 percent.

At the moment, at least, it appears that the more actions Virginia Republicans take, the less Virginia voters like them.

© 2013 Matthew Emmer -- All Rights Reserved

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