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Why was the election so close?

The TV ads are gone, the robo-calls have stopped, the morning mail is lighter without all the fliers, and slowly the signs on our roads are starting to disappear. Election 2013 is over. There were elections for everything from the Board of Supervisors to the House of Delegates. They each had their twists and surprises, but the contest that got the most attention was the race for Governor. These things never go quite the way the pundits predict and this year was no exception.  

It was supposed to be an easy Democratic victory. The question still being bandied about is why was it so close? One theory has to do with the nature of the election. Many voters, particularly independents,

appeared to be casting a negative vote. They didn’t necessarily like Terry McAuliffe, but their antipathy for Cuccinelli outweighed their misgivings. That kind of negative motivation is volatile by nature and that showed on election night.  

Then there was Obamacare. It seemed like a desperate move on Cuccinelli’s part, but late in the campaign, he shifted the focus of his message to his opposition to the Affordable Health Care Act. His timing was surprisingly good. The news about glitches in the national website was bad and some, though this number isn’t particularly large, were learning they couldn’t keep their old health plans. There was a backlash and according to the surveys a sizable number of voters in Virginia showed their displeasure by voting for the Republican.

What this election also demonstrated was the changing nature of Virginia’s vote. Namely, if you win Northern Virginia by a large enough margin, you win the election. The rest of the state almost didn’t matter. It’s hard to believe, but when I first got into politics, Northern Virginia was reliably Republican. But, since then, with massive population growth, the demographics, the age and ethnic makeup of the area, has changed radically. If Democrats run an acceptably progressive candidate and the GOP a strident social conservative the result is predictable. As it was this year. However, the margin of victory, along with the turnout wasn’t quite what it had been in past Democratic victories. This narrowed the margin for the Democrats.

A question many in the Virginia Republican Party are asking right now is whether the national GOP’s decision to reduce their level of assistance to the Cuccinelli campaign cost them the election. It probably did and the recriminations will probably be heard for some time. However, that’s history, but it leaves open the question, given his last minute surge, of whether or not Ken Cuccinelli’s political career is over or not. He is popular with the tea party and the socially conservative side of the party. He may yet have another day.

But, that’s all speculation. Now, the attention turns to Governor Elect Terry McAuliffe. He won and will take office in January. There is a lot to do, the economy needs stoking, our schools need help, and it’s time, thanks to the transportation bill, to start making needed improvements to our roads.  The new Governor has a lot on his plate and whether you voted for him or not, he deserves our best wishes. That’s the “Virginia Way.”  

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