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Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Don’t underestimate Ken Cucinelli

To Virginia Democrats, the likely Republican nominee for Governor, Ken Cucinelli seems so easy to beat that some, no doubt, are already planning what to wear to Terry McAuliffe’s, the likely Democratic nominee’s, inaugural.

It’s understandable. Cucinelli has managed to position himself so far to the right, and take so many controversial stands, that winning statewide, by some, is seen as nearly impossible. But, that would be underrating Ken Cucinelli, and as he has already proven, that is often a mistake.

For one thing, his right wing grandstanding, while providing campaign fodder for the McAuliffe campaign, has its up-side. In 2009, when Cuccinelli was elected Attorney General, he wasn’t a well-known figure. He was a state senator who had only been re-elected in 2007 by fewer than 100 votes. In 2009, while a successful candidate for Attorney General, he was nonetheless at the bottom of a ticket in a Republican landslide. Many people didn’t know who he was. They do now. His unorthodox or some would say, even inappropriate use of his powers as Attorney General to further conservative causes brought him to statewide and national attention. He was a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Committee Annual meeting in Washington D.C. last week. This attention is going to help when it comes to raising the big money he is going to need to run against Terry McAuliffe.

Cucinelli, the Democrats will argue has a branding problem. Namely, that many think he is a right wing nut case who is too focused on his ideology to run the state. It’s a good argument. But, Cucinelli is no more conservative than Governor Bob McDonnell was when he was elected Governor and that means that a lot will depend on how Cucinelli, for lack of a better word, is packaged.

The Attorney General, for all of his faults, and the list is long, has nonetheless been a surprisingly effective and persistent consumer rights advocate.

Yes, really.

I know my Democratic friends will do a double take at this statement, but Ken Cucinelli has championed a host of consumer issues and efforts to protect against consumer fraud. And it’s this part of his record that his campaign is likely to seize upon in characterizing their candidate as more mainstream.

Another factor, which may help the Attorney General, is the sequestration. Each party blames the other for the impasse that’s led to the cuts. But, none of the finger pointing may matter in a statewide election. Sequestration is already hitting hard in Virginia. Nearly 20% of the workforce depends either directly on a federal job or on a federal contract. The dislocation and income loss caused by sequestration may put voters in a foul mood and they may take their hostility out on the most visible symbol of the party in power, the President, and by default, the Democratic candidate for Governor. This would bode well for the GOP.

Turnout is another factor. Just like 2008, in 2012, it was turnout, and an exceptionally well organized get-out-the-vote campaign that helped carry the Commonwealth for Obama. However, as the Democrats found in 2009, they weren’t able to replicate that performance just a year later. Since then, the Democrats have learned a lot about organizing and the nature of their vote during the past four years. But, a smaller turnout, in an off year, whether it’s for state office, or the House and Senate, is usually better sailing for the Republicans. The Democrats will have to work hard to turn out their voters.

Many of these observations, at least on the surface, favor the Republicans. But, this is not an average year. The candidates couldn’t be more different. So much will depend on the campaigns, and who gets to define, what the marketers call, the narrative.

If the Democrats get in there first and successfully define Cucinelli as an extremist to the point that he has to defend this charge throughout the campaign, then the election will belong to Terry McAuliffe.

However, if Cucinelli manages to moderate his image, draw in the big money, and ride some of the anti-Washington anger over sequestration, the dynamics will be entirely different.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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