Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, II participate in a debate. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, II participate in a debate. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Republican Ken Cuccinelli is just a little behind in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, or maybe he is a lot behind.

He is either an ideal conservative, or maybe what Republicans should avoid.

He either didn’t talk about social issues enough, or he’s too extreme on social issues.

He was helped by the shutdown/Obamacare debate, or he was mortally wounded by the shutdown.

He is evidence how far you can go with a narrow appeal to primarily white, conservative voters, or he is evidence of the limitations of  such an appeal.

That is the divided view between right-wing activists and pundits who cheer Cuccinelli and now think they have a “moral” victory, and party insiders and mainstream voters who see a thrashing coming up. Unless Republicans want to make it a habit to lose on principle consistently I’d suggest they simply pay attention to the outcome.

If Cuccinelli wins, it’s a guide to how closely Democrats can be tied to the Obama administration and how a Republican to the right of the electorate can win against a very flawed candidate (primarily by running a very-hard hitting campaign going after the opponents’ financial and ethical dealings.) If he loses an entirely winnable race against a flawed candidate in a swing state, the far right will have to spin extra fast to convince fellow Republicans that this isn’t a big flashing red light.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.