Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday, squeaking by Republican Ken Cuccinelli with the help of voters in the predominantly blue Washington suburbs.
McAuliffe’s victory in the key swing state was an affirmation of his strategy to portray Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, as a Tea Party champion who is too extreme for Virginia.
After a slugfest waged over the airwaves, the former national chairman of the Democratic Party vowed to be “a governor for all Virginians.” McAuliffe also made a plea to supporters of his GOP rival and of Libertarian Robert Sarvis to work with him.
“I understand that emotions are raw. I have been there. I get it,” McAuliffe said. “I expect you to hold me to my pledge to work with both sides and I hope once we make bipartisan progress … That I can earn your trust.”.
Cuccinelli told his supporters that he was disappointed in the outcome. “I am immensely proud of the campaign we ran,” he said. “We were heavily outspent, but I’m proud we ran on first principles and serious ideas based on those principles.”.
McAuliffe, known best as a fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton, portrayed his GOP rival as a hard-line conservative in the mold of Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who helped force the partial government shutdown that hit hard in a state dependent on federal jobs and the military.
McAuliffe and his allies used the Democrat’s financial advantage in the race to pay for a barrage of negative ads saying Cuccinelli would restrict abortion and take away women’s access to health care.
Cuccinelli countered by hammering on McAuliffe’s questionable business ventures and ties to Obama and the Clintons. As headlines blared news of the health care law’s malfunctioning website, Cuccinelli tried to make the election a referendum on the law known as Obamacare and tap into voter concerns about the law’s impact on their choices and pocketbooks.
“This has been one unbelievably relentless, low-road, negative campaign,” said Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University. “Each candidate has tried to convince voters that the other is the more horrible alternative of the two.”.
Sarvis was receiving over 6% of the vote. Pre-election polls consistently showed the libertarian was drawing support away from Cuccinelli..
Virginia’s election was closely watched for tactics that might work in the 2014 election, especially in U.S. Senate races in Kentucky, Georgia and West Virginia where Tea Party candidates are challenging mainstream Republicans in primaries and Democrats are eager to take on weakened opponents.
The race also had implications for 2016. Obama won Virginia in both 2008 and 2012, largely on the strength of votes in Northern Virginia. McAuliffe was winning strongly in Fairfax and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria, according to unofficial returns. McAuliffe’s victory there would seem to position Democrats to continue the trend in a state that both parties covet in presidential elections.
Democrat Ralph Northam was elected lieutenant governor and the party was also hoping to win the attorney general’s race to sweep the statewide offices. McAuliffe’s victory also bucks a historical trend, as he became the first candidate of the sitting president’s party since 1973 to be elected Virginia’s governor.
In the final stretch, both candidates brought in their party’s stars to stress the election’s importance. McAuliffe campaigned with Obama, Vice President Biden and his longtime friends, the Clintons. Cuccinelli stumped with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, both Tea Party favorites, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – all potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates.
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