7 reasons why Terry McAuliffe is going to win

October 29, 2013

A new Washington Post-SRBI poll on the Virginia's governors race shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Ken Cuccinelli 51 percent to 39 percent among likely voters with just a week left before Election Day.  Barring some sort of political catastrophe, McAuliffe will win -- and could well sweep Democrats into the other two top statewide offices on the ballot as well.


In these Oct. 10, 2013, file photos Virginia candidates for governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, talk during a forum at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., prior to the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

There are lots of reasons for McAuliffe's expected victory -- GovBeat's Reid Wilson hits on a number of them, including the Democrat's massive spending edge -- but the new WaPo poll is chock full of data points that provide a roadmap for how the race got to this point. We combed through the poll -- it's like Christmas morning for us when a new poll comes out -- and came up with seven reasons that McAuliffe is almost certainly going to be the next governor of the Commonwealth.

1. People don't like Cuccinelli. Roughly six in ten likely voters (58 percent) have an unfavorable opinion of the state Attorney General including 43 percent who have a "strongly" unfavorable view of him.  In fact, more people are strongly unfavorable toward Cuccinelli than are either strongly  (17 percent) or somewhat (24 percent) favorable about him.  You almost never win races when you unfavorable ratings are so high and/or when the intensity behind those unfavorables is so strong.

2. People think Cuccinelli is too conservative. A majority (54 percent) of likely voters said that Cuccinelli's views are "too conservative" for them while 36 percent said his stances were just about right. (Forty percent said McAuliffe's views were too liberal while 50 percent said they were just about right.) When more than half of the electorate believes you are well outside of their political beliefs -- to the right or left -- it's bad news.

3. Women, especially, think Cuccinelli isn't their candidate. McAuliffe is beating Cuccinelli 58 percent to 34 percent among women voters in Virginia. (By way of comparison, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) beat Democrat Creigh Deeds by eight points among women in 2009.) Asked which candidate would do a better job handling "issues of special concern to women", McAuliffe leads by 27 points. On which candidate would do a better job handling abortion, McAuliffe's edge is 17 points.

4. Cuccinelli is losing the values fight.  Cuccinelli's great strength in past races for state Senate and Attorney General was that even if voters didn't agree with all of his issue stances, they believed he was a principled candidate who genuinely believed what he said. That reputation has taken a major hit in this race.  McAuliffe, whose reputation coming into this year was that he would say or do anything to get himself (or his preferred candidates) elected, has a nine-point lead over Cuccinelli on which candidate is "more honest and trustworthy".  And, McAuliffe has an eight-point edge when voters are asked which candidate "more closely shares your values".

5. The race is a referendum on Cuccinelli. Two-thirds of McAuliffe supporters say their vote is more against Cuccinelli than for the Democrat.  That number makes clear that the McAuliffe campaign has successfully turned this contest into a referendum on Cuccinelli and his views.

6. The federal government shutdown hurt Cuccinelli. Eighty two percent of likely voters disapprove of the government shutdown and a majority (51 percent) say that Republicans were mainly responsible for it. (Thirty percent say the blame primarily rests with President Obama.) When asked how important the government shutdown was in deciding their votes, 55 percent of the sample say it was "very" important. Worth noting: Aside from the damage the shutdown did to Cuccinelli, it also kept attention away from the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov, a potentially terrific issue for Cuccinelli who was a leading voice nationally in opposition to the law.

7. The Republican brand stinks in the state. The GOP brand is struggling in the Commonwealth. Fifty seven percent of likely voters view the Virginia Republican party unfavorably and 65 percent view the national Republican party in an unfavorable light. By contrast, a majority -- albeit it a slim one -- have a favorable view of the state Democratic party (53 percent) and the national Democratic party (50 percent).

Add those seven factors up and combine the fact that McAuliffe is outspending Cuccinelli by $8 million and you see that this race is lost for Republicans.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · October 29, 2013