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Defections in Virginia’s GOP

They aren’t calling themselves “Republicans for McAuliffe.” At least not yet, but Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s campaign is already touting endorsements from several prominent Virginia Republicans.  

For the GOP this is a not a good sign of things to come. Losing campaigns, often those perceived as too liberal or too conservative, have often prompted the formation of “Democrats for,” or a “Republicans for,” the candidate of the other party.   In 1964, there were Republicans for Johnson.  In 1972 there were Democrats for Nixon.  A decade later there were Democrats for Reagan.  When Henry Howell, a liberal Democrat, was running for Governor conservative Democrats formed an organization supporting his opponent.  In each case, these defections played an important role in the candidate’s defeat.

Ken Cucinelli is already facing this problem. Cucinelli is a favorite among the Republican Party’s firebrand conservatives, but many, more mainstream Republicans, even some with solid conservative credentials are either distancing themselves from his campaign or voicing their support for his opponent.  Not surprisingly, Bill Bolling, who has had a bone to pick with Cucinelli for some time now, believing that the GOP is too conservative, isn’t making an endorsement.  But, it gets worse.  A name I grew up with in Northern Virginia, former Republican House of Delegates Minority Leader, Vince Callahan, a Republican stalwart since the 1960’s, has endorsed Ken Cuccinelli’s opponent.  That had to hurt.  But, last week, Earle Williams, a major Republican financial backer, who back in 1993 sought the GOP nomination for Governor himself, has decided to back the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. I am not sure the Cucinelli campaign saw that one coming.
Things, however, get worse for the GOP nominee.  Two other prominent Virginia Republicans, Jan Schar the former President of the Dominion Republican Woman’s Club, along with her husband Dwight Schar, the Former Finance Chair of the Republican National Committee announced their support for McAuliffe.  These are both individuals who have supported GOP candidates from George Allen to George W. Bush.   But, faced with the current Republican ticket have chosen to throw their support to the other side.

These endorsements for Cuccinelli’s opponent seem to be piling on.  And McAuliffe’s campaign is making the most of them.  But, the question is why is Cucinelli losing so much support from within the Republican Party?  These people can’t all be, to use the pejorative term the far right loves, Republicans in Name Only.  There has to be something more going on.  

Many have cited the divisive nature of the ticket.  They believe that Cucinelli is too extreme on issues like abortion, the environment and gay rights.  The presence on his ticket of E.W. Jackson, who many prominent Republicans are refusing to endorse, doesn’t help.  Congressman Scot Rigell (R-Virginia) have declined to publicly support his campaign. That break in GOP support doesn’t help the top of the ticket.

There is also Cuccinelli’s opposition to the recent transportation bill. This did away with the gas tax and modestly increased the sales tax.  Cucinelli, grabbing onto the tea party’s rabid anti-tax stand, opposes the legislations.  Many in the Northern Virginia business community, concerned about transportation and its role in economic development, aren’t happy with this.  While normally Republican they could well desert the GOP ticket in favor of a business friendly Democrat such as McAuliffe.

None of this means that Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign is suddenly doomed.  It isn’t, but defections of this magnitude, particularly if they keep coming, could signal a rough campaign for the Republicans in the fall.

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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