We are less than a week out from the Tuesday elections, with the biggest race being for governor in Virginia. All of the latest polls show Republican uber-conservative and state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli trailing to prodigious Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe, to varying degrees. Of course, the Tuesday results will depend on turnout and off years generally tend to feature older, whiter, more conservative voters showing up to the polls. Yet the question seems to be not whether Cuccinelli will lose, but by how much - and conservatives are already conducting some autopsies.
A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that conservatives have no idea why Cuccinelli is losing. They were trying to make the narrative about how he was suffering because of the shutdown, which serves a twofold purpose to sensible, moderate, conservatives columnists who would still like to see Republicans win. First, it glosses over how Ken Cuccinelli is a truly terrible candidate. Second, it allows them to hold this up as an example to castigate the "suicide caucus" and implore them to act like serious legislators again, lest they damage the party nationally. Yet in doing so, they completely ignored a glaring disparity in polling numbers that had been in place long before the shutdown: the gender gap.
Now I no longer think they have no idea what's going on - they are just in denial. First, Dave Weigel addresses a polling gap - just not the one among women:
But in person, it’s not baffling at all. On Tuesday, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe hit the trail just 10 miles apart, in separate Northern Virginia suburbs. Cuccinelli is currently losing these suburbs by 24 points and was being outspent on TV even before one of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s shell groups started spending money here. It’s getting more liberal as more government contractors and nonwhite voters move in. McAuliffe has effectively disqualified Cuccinelli with these people, telling them with incessant TV ads that the attorney general opposes legal contraception and shutters abortion clinics.
I really love how he can write a sentence about how McAuliffe is focused on contraception and abortion clinics without mentioning WHY he might think that’s a winning strategy!
Today, Kathleen Parker kind of sort of addresses how women might not like Cuccinelli before quickly pivoting:
Partly, this is Cuccinelli’s fault. His conservative views on same-sex marriage and abortion do not resonate with many voters, especially women. He also suffered some collateral damage from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s questionable practices in accepting gifts and cash donations for personal use.
But mostly, the polls suggest that general distaste for the GOP and the Republican role in shutting down the government has doomed Cuccinelli at a time when he ought to be celebrating his insight in leading the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act(ACA). Fifty-five percent said the shutdown is very important to their vote.
Now I don’t doubt a lot of people will count the shutdown among reasons why they cast their vote. What I do doubt is whether the shutdown really changed the calculus of the race. The numbers have shifted somewhat, McAuliffe’s lead has slightly widened – but it’s continuing a momentum that was already in place. Now it may motivate some people to go to the polls who otherwise might have skipped. But Washington Post is showing the number of respondents saying they will vote for Cuccinelli as pretty flat since September 22nd. So while McAuliffe’s numbers have ticked up slightly, Cuccinelli doesn’t seem to be hemorrhaging voters pissed at the shutdown.
But while we’re cherry picking data, I’d like to draw your attention to another question from that poll. First, the survey asked, “Regardless of how you may vote, whom do you trust to do a better job of handling issues of special concern to women – McAuliffe or Cuccinelli?” Fifty-seven percent said McAuliffe, and only 30 percent said Cuccinelli. That’s a 27-point difference. Among men, the difference was 50 to 35 percent for McAuliffe; among women, it was 64 to 26 percent. So there's a 38-point gap among likely women voters on which candidate would do better with women's issues.
They asked the same question about who would be better at handling abortion in a split-sampled question. Overall, the numbers are 52 percent to 35 percent in favor of McAuliffe. But among men, it’s close – 45 to 40 percent for McAuliffe. Among women? Fifty-nine percent say McAuliffe would do a better job. Only 31 percent say Cuccinelli would.
No wonder the McAuliffe campaign is running all those ads about abortion clinics!