The other campaign is about voters in Virginia.
In both cases, the candidates are Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican, and former national Democratic party chairman Terry McAuliffe.
“There are parallel campaigns, the one fought in the national eye versus the one happening on the ground,” said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist who supports McAuliffe and worked for him four years ago. “You’re fighting a two-front battle.”
Virginia governor’s races have taken on national import for many years, because only the Old Dominion and New Jersey hold statewide elections the year after a presidential vote. But that national spotlight has grown far more intense as Virginia has evolved into a politically competitive state.
The national version of the campaigns for and against — but mainly against — Cuccinelli and McAuliffe already includes a “Keep Ken Out” Web site from Planned Parenthood’s political arms and the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List’s “Tell Terry” drive on the Internet and in radio ads — part of a $1.5 million commitment the group has made to the GOP candidate.
America Rising, a new Republican-friendly political action committee devoted to opposition research and headed by former Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades, has started posting video clips of McAuliffe’s most embarrassing moments. And American Bridge, the Democratic-aligned group that inspired the creation of America Rising, has launched two anti-Cuccinelli sites, GiftsforKen.com and Kenontheissues.com.
For the national parties, the Virginia race is a way to define themselves ahead of the next election cycle. “The Republicans have to prove they remain a viable party even though they’re on the defensive on issue after issue,” said Craig Shirley, a Republican strategist and biographer who earlier this year helped Cuccinelli publicize his new book, “The Last Line of Defense.” “And the Democrats want to show the national trend is continuing and they’ve broken with Virginia’s history of going against the party that won the White House.”
This year, both gubernatorial campaigns shifted into hyperdrive more than eight months ahead of the election, feeding the media beast an almost hourly diet of news releases, tweets and appearances.
Both sides aired their first ads in the first days of May, which struck some campaign professionals as a little nutty.
Dave Rexrode, Cuccinelli’s campaign manager, agreed that “most voters in Virginia are a little burned out and are not as focused on the governor’s race as they will be come September.”