Ken Cuccinelli’s attempt to win the Virginia governor’s race by yearning for a return of sodomy laws came to an abrupt end Tuesday night. Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Cuccinelli, the Republican state Attorney General, 48% to 46%. A third-party libertarian candidate picked up the rest of the vote.
Cuccinelli had been expected to lose the race, but he lost by a narrower margin than anticipated. The stench of defeat had surrounded his campaign for weeks, and as Election Day drew nearer, Cuccinelli abandoned any pretense of looking moderate and appealed wholeheartedly to his right-wing followers.
Probably just as galling to Cuccinelli as the loss was losing to McAuliffe, a flawed candidate at best. McAuliffe ran for governor four years ago and lost and has been described as having a “visceral loathesomeness.”
Despite an inauspicious start, McAuliffe managed to portray Cuccinelli as an even worse choice than himself.He used Cuccinelli’s antigay rhetoric to portray the Republican as an extremist (which, thanks to Cuccinelli’s own words, wasn’t that hard). Polls suggested that voters don’t like McAuliffe, but they like Cuccinelli even less.
Also losing in Virginia tonight was E.W. Jackson, the Republican’s lieutenant governor candidate and all-around nutburger. Jackson distinguished himself in the campaign by lying about his impossibly lengthy record of homophobia.
Republicans will try to spin this as a case of doing better than expected against the odds (McAuliffe outraised Cuccinelli by $15 million). But the fact is, it’s a case of conservative voters turning out in an off-year election. And even then, that wasn’t enough. A different candidate with a different message would have made all the difference. (Just look north to New Jersey, where Chris Christie romped to re-election by knowing when to fold). Instead, the GOP stuck with the man of extreme principles and got the loss they deserved.