President Barack Obama’s political standing may be taking a hit, as our colleague Mark Silva delineates, but prospects for the president’s Democratic Party are looking brighter in one of 2013′s few key elections.
At least, that’s how analyst Larry Sabato sees the trend in the Virginia gubernatorial faceoff between Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a renowned fundraiser who’s never actually held an elective office, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the state attorney general who has spent much of his campaign trying to tamp down his image as an unrelenting conservative crusader on cultural issues.
Sabato, in recently moving his prognosis for the November vote from toss-up to “leans Democratic,” writes on his Crystal Ball website that McAuliffe “has managed to make the prospect of a Governor Cuccinelli seem scary, while Cuccinelli has `only’ succeeded in making McAuliffe look like a run-of-the-mill, self-interested wealthy political hack. In this wholly negative race, that sad distinction matters.”
Here’s why Sabato’s view matters. Although he’s long held forth on races across the nation, Virginia is his home turf. He was born and raised in Norfolk, graduated from the University of Virginia and cut his teeth in politics working on several statewide campaigns as a teen and young man.
Sabato, 61, currently is a professor at his alma mater and serves as director of its Center for Politics. In his latest posting on the governor’s race, he notes that a McAuliffe win would cut against the grain of Virginia’s tradition of using its off-year election to cause heartburn in the Oval Office. McAuliffe would be the first gubernatorial victor from the sitting president’s party since Republican Mills Godwin “was elected in 1973, when Richard Nixon was in the White House.”
Of course, Obama’s own victories in Virginia carried their own historical value.
As Sabato walks through the factors that have benefitted McAuliffe, he also adds an appropriate note of caution, applicable to this race and all others: “Campaigns are organic, and they change day to day as a consequence of real events. When we rate races at the Crystal Ball, we write on sand castles, not stone mountains.”