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Math and aftermath

SoVaNow.com / November 13, 2013
A week removed from the not-so-great Election of 2013, here’s a rundown of the winners and whatever passes for the opposite:

WINNERS: Pundits, politicos and campaign junkies. Everyone else? Not so much. This being an off-off-year election, with only two gubernatorial races at stake, plus a bunch of lesser offices and ballot initiatives to gunk up the works, it was inevitable that the outcome would be a mixed bag. What can one truly discern from an election where only a small share of voters actually bothers to turn out? One thing you can count on, if there’s a political race going on anywhere in the world, they’ll always be a pundit at the ready to pontificate on What It All Means.

Oh well. Ain’t too proud to preen myself. The consensus takeaway from Election Night is a New Jersey Republican (Chris Christie) with some claim to political moderation won big-time in his governor’s race, while a Virginia Republican (Ken Cuccinelli) widely viewed as an ideological extremist lost. Only problem is, this interpretation provides no real guidance on what might happen in 2014, when control of Congress will be at stake. No one in the Republican Party — either its establishment or Tea Party wing — came away on Election Night with a clear and convincing claim to ascendancy. The ongoing tension between these two factions promises to be an excellent source of black humor in the days to come.

In Virginia, the Cuccinelli brigade is blaming the Capital Square money boys for abandoning a gubernatorial contest that could have been won. This interpretation ignores the campaign’s biggest handicap: Cuccinelli himself. It’s true that the Democratic victor, Terry McAuliffe, raised and spent prodigious sums to squeak out a 2.5 percent victory, a narrow margin indeed. Yet how many times in politics have you ever witnessed the Republican candidate running short of money in a tight race? Businesspeople, in Virginia anyway, tend to support Republicans. Cuccinelli never was quite able to consolidate his base of financial support, even if Republicans came around by the end to cast their votes for the Cooch. And what’s with Cuccinelli’s obsession with the affairs of other people’s bedrooms, anyway? I’ll never understand that one.

McAuliffe? On the one hand, as governor he probably can only surprise on the upside, given the low esteem with which he enters office. On the other, could the Democrats have fielded a candidate with a more dismal reputation? Okay, sure, John Edwards. And Anthony Weiner. Can’t forget that guy. Yet aside from the occasional scandal-tarred pariah Dem, you’d have a hard time naming a candidate who elicits higher negative ratings. McAuliffe’s best play during the campaign was to offer a full-throated defense of initiatives dear to the hearts of most Democrats (and acceptable to most moderates) —support for expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program being perhaps the chief example. Now that he’s headed to the Governor’s Mansion, McAullife’s most important job will be to follow through on his rhetoric. We’ll be watching.

LOSER: The Tea Party. You can never quite know which side will earn the favor of voters in the next election, but it’s pretty obvious it won’t be the Tea Party. The far-right crowd has worn out its welcome, so much so that even business-friendly Republicans have turned on the tricorn-wearing set. In Alabama, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other GOP-leaning lobbies intervened in a Congressional primary to elevate a self-styled Main Street candidate over a Tea Party challenger. (Both candidates occupy the far right of the political spectrum, but the Tea Party guy distinguished (?) himself by insisting that President Obama was born in Kenya.) True, Dean Young, the Tea Partier, came reasonably close to winning the Republican nomination, falling by only 5 points, but the fact his candidacy inspired such fear and loathing ought to tell you something. Plus, this is Alabama. If Tea Party candidates can’t win there, they can’t win anywhere.

WINNER: Virginia’s reputation for good governance. After the shame of Bob McDonnell’s final year in office, it’s been heartening to watch the Old Dominion election apparatus perform with distinction under duress. The duress stems from the unbelievably close (and still undecided) outcome in the Attorney General’s race, where Republican Mark Obenshain and Democrat Mark Herring have been trading the lead ever since the returns were first tallied on Election Night. Anyone who has ever covered an election knows that it’s easy to make minor errors in reporting the results, and it usually take a few days to straighten out the final totals. Because campaigns are rarely decided by only a few votes, usually no one notices this housekeeping process. Not this time. At one point, after Bedford, Mecklenburg and a handful of other GOP-leaning localities updated their returns, Obenshain claimed a 1,272 vote lead out of 2.2 million votes cast. After the discovery of some 2,000 uncounted ballots in Fairfax, Obenshain’s lead fell to an incredible 15 votes, and later a correction in Richmond pushed Herring out to a 117-vote lead as of Tuesday morning. We won’t know the winner until after all the provisional ballots are approved and counted and a recount takes place. Which means one of the candidates should be receiving a special surprise under his Christmas tree. At this point the odds favor Herring, the Democrat, but not even Santa knows for sure.

LOSER: Virginia Uranium Inc. It may be risky to take anything that Terry McAuliffe says at face value, but the candidate emerged as the clear choice of the anti-mining contingent in the governor’s race. McAuliffe sounded the appropriate note of skepticism about uranium mining’s viability in Virginia, which, if it holds up, should serve to keep VUI bottled up for at least four years. Already the company was looking at nearly-insurmountable opposition to lifting Virginia’s mining ban in the State Senate. Having a hostile governor in office raises the question: how long will VUI’s financial backers (in Canada and other locales) hang around in the hope that the company can turn around its political fortunes in Richmond? It’s not like these transnational energy companies don’t have other places to invest their money. And with the boom in natural gas kicking the props out from under nuclear power, maybe we can look forward to the day when the Pittsylvania County ore lode returns to a (politically) dormant state. Maybe.

WINNER: The history books. It is entirely conceivable that the Herring-Obenshain race for Attorney General could set a modern record for closeness in a statewide election. If Herring wins, it’ll mark the first time since 1969 that Democrats have controlled all five statewide offices (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and the two U.S. Senate seats). Speaking of close elections, over in Halifax County, a School Board race that ended in a tie vote Tuesday night was decided three days later by drawing the winner’s name out of a hat (actually it was an empty ballot box, but you get the idea. And yes, this is how the Code of Virginia stipulates that ties are to be broken in the Commonwealth. Now you know). It’s unlikely that the Attorney General’s race would wind up in a perfect tie, but it’s not impossible. Meantime, Virginia broke its long tradition of electing a governor from the party opposite to the sitting President. With McAuliffe’s triumph, on top of Barack Obama’s repeat victory in Virginia in 2012, you can color Old Virginny a shade of blue. Until such time next year. By that time, who knows what the future will have in store?



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