The Republican Party’s loss of the Virginia Governor’s race has sparked extensive analysis searching for “lessons learned” while heading into the crucial upcoming 2014 Congressional elections. Conventional wisdom argues that the government shutdown drama hurt Ken Cuccinelli and his running mates, although later the flawed ObamaCare roll-out helped Virginia Republicans regain some lost ground.
Facts Do Not Support Shutdown Hurt Cuccinelli
But the facts don’t support the theory that the government shutdown and debt ceiling battle hurt Ken Cuccinelli. Virginians who voted in the November 6 elections about equally blamed both President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress, according to exit polling by CNN. . Of those who actually voted, not just answering telephone opinion polls, 48% blamed Republicans in Congress and 45% blamed Barack Obama. That’s only a 3% difference, with an undisclosed margin of error typically about 3% for this kind of poll. Moreover, CNN didn’t provide a choice for those who blame Democrats in Congress.
Yet of those who blamed Obama for the shutdown, 87% voted for Ken Cuccinelli for Governor of Virginia. Of those who blamed Congressional Republicans, 88% voted for Terry McAuliffe. In other words, the shutdown drama was a political inkblot test.
So who your candidate was – your political party – determined how you viewed the shutdown and debt ceiling drama. Those who supported the Republican blamed Obama for the shutdown. Those who supported the Democrat blamed Republicans in Congress.
But if the shutdown were to blame, Cuccinelli’s approval would have dropped sharply after the shutdown began on September 30. But that didn’t happen. Cuccinelli was already struggling in the polls for months before that. Robert Sarvis, put up as a dirty trick by an Obama donor on the Libertarian line, was drawing 10% to 11%, until Ron Paul denounced him.
Then, Virginians’ views of ObamaCare would have worsened after the shutdown. Yet that didn’t happen, either. The voters on November 6 opposed ObamaCare by only 53% to 46%. That modest 7% difference is in line with opposition for years. According to Gallup , opposition to Obama Care nationally was a net 8% in August — 49% opposed to 41% approval. It was 50% opposed over 45% approving in late October. So we see no evidence that disapproval of ObamaCare suddenly rose among Virginia’s voters… at least not yet.
Instead, Ken Cuccinelli’s late rally appears to have come by winning back voters previously supporting Faux Libertarian Sarvis, rather than winning over voters who were leaning toward McAuliffe. Cuccinelli had explained that this often happens in Virginia, that a large protest vote to a third party candidate comes home to its natural party by election day. It is unlikely that voters upset about the shutdown and debt ceiling would have leaned libertarian, calling for smaller government and reduced spending. ObamaCare problems hurt Democrats, but that damage is still in their future.
Opponents of Ted Cruz Assertiveness Misunderstand Shutdown
Conventional wisdom is an attempt to undermine Ted Cruz’s tactics. There are many factions who may not like conservatives, but above all they don’t want conservatives actually doing anything effective, actually fighting for what conservatives believe, actually taking a stand. Some tolerate mild-mannered conservatives as long as they don’t rock the boat. But they become outraged at conservatives who actually believe what they say and act upon their beliefs. A politician who really believes what he says makes the rest of them look bad. (Of course Cruz is not the only strong conservative leader involved. Cruz is only the most visible symbol of the movement at the moment.)
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The second problem with the blame the shutdown theory is that the shutdown drama was all about ObamaCare. Pundits talk as if the shutdown was on some entirely different topic. What was the shutdown drama about other than ObamaCare’s problems and Republicans trying to stop ObamaCare?
Third, the shut down emphasized that Democrats are to blame for the ObamaCare problems. Policy wonks are too close to the forest to see the trees. The average voter is not spending all his time following this stuff. The shutdown drama helped educate voters that Republicans were trying to save them from the ObamaCare fiasco.
If low information voters blame all of Washington indiscriminately, then Republicans will not benefit politically from ObamaCare’s failures. ObamaCare can be the biggest political disaster in history, but unless low information voters see a difference between Republicans and Democrats, they won’t change their votes because of it.
Remember that many Obama voters weren’t aware which party controlled Congress heading into the 2008 elections. At that time it was Democrats, yet Obama voters thought it was Republicans and wanted “change” (from the Democrat-controlled Congress). They couldn’t identify almost any of the nation’s leadership. But pundits assume that everyone is following these news developments as closely as are they.
Other Important Insights from Exit Polls
Meanwhile, curiously, 15% of those self-identifying as “White Born-again Christians” voted for Terry McAuliffe. Why CNN specifically asked about “White” born-again Christians is baffling. But losing 15% of White born-agains, not even considering African-American churches, looks especially disturbing for Republicans. Ken clearly failed to connect and make that sale. Only 81% voted for Cuccinelli. McAuliffe is not only a pro-abortion Democrat but, as Virginia blog Bearing Drift points out, he still has two Federal criminal investigations unresolved. McAuliffe might not serve out his first term.
Incredibly, of those November 6 Virginia voters calling themselves conservative, 13% of conservatives voted for McAuliffe, the unqualified, superficial, Democrat Clinton hack. How could 13% of conservatives reject Cuccinelli to vote for McAuliffe? Curiously, 4% calling themselves liberal voted for Cuccinelli, possibly reflecting McAuliffe’s personal baggage and ethical baggage.
But bad news for Republicans is that 56% of those calling themselves moderate voted for the Democrat McAuliffe. Democrats succeeded in portraying Cuccinelli as too extreme and the ultra-partisan party hack McAuliffe as mainstream.
Surprisingly, of those who approve of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s job in office only 61% voted for Cuccinelli. Meanwhile, 21% of those who disapprove of McDonnell voted for Cuccinelli anyway. Voters who do not own a gun chose McAuliffe by 64% to 29% while those who have a gun in their household chose Cuccinelli 59% to 33%. Married voters preferred Cuccinelli by 50% to 43%, while single voters preferred McAuliffe by 62% to 29%.
GOP Must Stop Squabbling, Improve Core Campaign Skills
Ken Cuccinelli and his running mate E.W. Jackson are overwhelmingly superior choices for Virginia, head and shoulders above even the best of Virginia Democrats. McAuliffe is among the worst, and not even from Virginia at all. Yet clearly Republicans need to do better at the crucial core competencies of relating to voters, explaining their positions persuasively, and convincing voters of their views.
Yet the Republican Party is torn with debates over all the wrong issues. The GOP is not only caught up in fighting, but fighting and focused upon all the wrong things. Taking a strong stand for what conservatives believe is not our problem. Learning how to explain ourselves more persuasively is our challenge. The GOP in Virginia and everywhere needs to go back to school on the basics of effective campaigning and stop blaming each other.