For GOP, an easy victory squandered

Published 8:52 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A victory by Ken Cuccinelli in November’s gubernatorial race would prove nothing about rigid conservatism’s strength in Virginia politics.

So flawed is Cuccinelli’s Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, that a GOP win is just as likely to be attributed to weak opposition as to the far right’s prowess.

A Cuccinelli loss, on the other hand, would deal a death blow to the future electoral hopes of Tea Party and social conservatives in the commonwealth. It says here that if your guy can’t beat an outsider with the political baggage of a Clintonite like McAuliffe, you’re not gonna beat anybody in a statewide race.

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Opinion polls increasingly point toward the GOP having to confront that reality when the votes are counted on the night of Nov. 5. Some Republicans, like Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, are jumping ship early and publicly backing McAuliffe. Others are curiously silent in an election that should have had Republicans licking their chops.

The stars could not have been better aligned for Virginia Republicans in 2013.

It’s a non-presidential election year, which almost always favors the party not occupying the White House. President Barack Obama’s sagging popularity made this year especially opportunistic for Republicans.

The Democrats could hardly have offered up a weaker candidate than McAuliffe, who was pummeled in his own party’s gubernatorial primary in 2009 and has done nothing remotely impressive in the four years since. Unless one considers empty promises impressive. In that case, you might love McAuliffe, who’s been teasing economically starved communities like neighboring Franklin and Tunica County, Miss., with hundreds of jobs, but delivering none.

Wikipedia describes McAuliffe as “an American businessman, fundraiser, politician, and former chairman of the Democratic Party.” Three of the four are well documented. Evidence of the fourth is flimsy.

Yet, Republicans, barring an 11th-hour Democratic scandal, appear destined to lose the election anyway, which should, once and for all, settle the debate within the GOP of what kind of candidate to nominate in a statewide election.

A purple state like Virginia prefers centrists over ideologues. That’s a hard pill to swallow for principled conservatives, but if they want to win elections, they’ll force it down before 2017.

Then, perhaps, Bill Bolling, who’d be 10 points up in the polls now against McAuliffe, will get his rightful turn after all.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is