Did anyone really think this year’s Virginia gubernatorial race would be free of the extremist rhetoric that has come to typify politics of late?
The silly season is off to an early start with Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli saying conservatives should be willing to go to jail to keep women from gaining contraceptive coverage through the Affordable Care Act, a comment Democrat Terry McAuliffe quickly labeled “far outside the mainstream.”
Meanwhile, a poll finds the two in a dead heat so far, even if Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling bolts the Republican party and runs for governor as an independent.
The “go to jail” dust-up occurred Wednesday when Cuccinelli, a Roman Catholic, appeared on Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace’s syndicated show and said that going to jail mighty be an effective way to prevent women from having abortions covered by employer-provided insurance.
“My local bishop said he told a group, `Well, you know, I told a group I’m ready to go to jail,’ and I told him, `Bishop, don’t take this personally – you need to go to jail,” Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe said the comments demonstrated that Cuccinelli was out of touch with mainstream voters.
“Ken Cuccinelliâ€™s divisive comments are far outside the mainstream and donâ€™t reflect the priorities of Virginians I hear from every day. Our next Governor needs to focus on mainstream ideas for economic growth instead of spending their time on a divisive ideological agenda to restrict womenâ€™s health care,” McAuliffe said.
“When I talk to fellow business leaders, they tell me that comments and policies like these make it harder for Virginia to attract new companies. If we want Virginia to be the best state for business, we need leaders committed to that goal instead of politicians pursuing their own divisive ideological agenda,” said McAuliffe, a McLean businessman and former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
A Quinnipac University poll finds Cuccinelli and McAuliffe in a dead heat in their race to be Virginia’s next governor, even if Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling runs as an independent.
McAuliffe gets 40 percent to 39 percent for Cuccinelli, with one in five voters saying they are undecided. That compares to McAuliffe’s 41 – 37 percent margin in a November 14 matchup by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll.
If Republican Bolling were to run as an independent, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli would get 34 percent each and Bolling would garner 13 percent. The three-way choice was not offered in November.
None of the three candidates is well-known to Virginia registered voters. Cuccinelli is the best known of the lot with 33 percent holding a favorable opinion, to 25 percent unfavorable and 41 percent who don’t know enough about him to form an opinion. For Bolling, who has held statewide office for seven years, 72 percent don’t know enough to form an opinion. For McAuliffe, who ran for governor four years ago, 61 percent haven’t formed an opinion.
“While all three candidates for governor have run statewide previously, voter memories are short and they are little-known to Virginia voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “It goes without saying that with this relatively low level of voter recognition it will be some time before the shape of the race becomes clear. What is clear is that as an independent Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling faces a pretty stiff uphill climb should he decide to run as an independent.”
“Logic tells us that if Bolling should run for governor as an independent, he would likely take more votes from fellow Republican Cuccinelli than from Democrat McAuliffe, but at this point the data indicates he would take equally from both major party candidates,” Brown added.
In a head to head match between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe voters so far break predictably. The Republican has a 47 – 35 percent lead among men, while the Democrat holds a 45 – 32 percent margin among women. Cuccinelli carries Republicans 85 – 3 percent and independent voters 38 – 29 percent, while McAuliffe wins Democrats 85 – 3 percent. Cuccinelli carries white voters 49 – 31 percent, while McAuliffe wins blacks 72 – 6 percent.
“With these relatively low levels of familiarity, the candidate who is best able to define himself and his opponent or opponents negatively is likely to become the Old Dominion’s next governor. That would make it likely that Virginia television viewers in the coming months will see a heavy dose of negative television ads from the campaigns,” said Brown.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell gets good grades. He has a healthy 45 – 23 percent favorable/unfavorable rating and a 54 – 27 percent job approval rating, an impressive 2-1 ratio.
Cuccinelli gets a 48 – 27 percent approval rating for his job performance as attorney general, compared to Bolling’s 40 – 16 percent rating for his work as lieutenant governor.
The state’s U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, also score well. Warner, who has for some time gotten the highest performance scores of any Virginia politician, remains high with a 59 – 27 percent job approval rating. Kaine, just sworn in this month, has a 48 – 30 percent rating.