But there are good reasons to pay attention. In each of the past nine gubernatorial elections, Virginians chose a candidate who represented the party that did not hold the White House. If that pattern is broken this year, Republicans will be asking why. Certainly the ethics scandal that has engulfed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell could be a reason. Another will be the GOP nominee’s background.
Cuccinelli made his reputation as one of his party’s most outspoken conservatives. As attorney general, he became a darling of tea party activists determined to shrink the size of government and of social and religious conservatives who favor an end to most legal abortion and oppose the movement to legalize same-sex marriage.
In his book “
The Last Line of Defense,” Cuccinelli explained his success as a politician this way: “I won not just because I had lots of committed supporters who worked hard for me, but because I didn’t compromise on first principles. Instead I explained them.” He said conservatives should “no longer be silent or shy” about expressing those views.
That is the same philosophy that has propelled a group of rebellious House Republicans to force the government to the brink of a partial shutdown and that could cause the government to default on its debt in a few weeks. It is the philosophy that has made Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who talked for more than 21 hours on the Senate floor last week to register his opposition to President Obama’s health-care law, a hero on the right.
Cuccinelli matches the profile of the kind of candidate whom many Republican activists wish their party would nominate for national office — someone authentically and unapologetically conservative and willing to fight for those ideas. To these conservatives, the past two Republican presidential nominees, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in 2012 and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in 2008, were deficient on both counts.
Cuccinelli appears to be in an uphill fight to win the governor’s seat. This past spring, a Washington Post poll showed him leading McAuliffe in a two-way race, 51 percent to 41 percent. Last week, a Post-Abt SRBI poll showed McAuliffe ahead, 49 percent to 44 percent. With libertarian Robert Sarvis added to the mix, McAuliffe led 47 percent to 39 percent. An NBC-Marist poll released last week showed McAuliffe leading 43 percent to 38 percent, with Sarvis at 8 percent.
The Post-Abt SRBI poll shows a huge gender gap. In the three-way matchup, Cuccinelli is winning among men by 10 points. But he trails McAuliffe among women by a whopping 27 points, 58 percent to 31 percent. Among likely voters, he trails McAuliffe by 24 points on the question of whom voters trust to handle issues of special concern to women.