Time's Picture of 2013 Va. Gov's Race: 'Dyed-in-the-Wool Tea Partyer' vs. 'Establishment Favorite' Dem
The 2013 gubernatorial races may be in many ways a prelude of the 2014 congressional midterms. That certainly was the case in 1993 and 2009. So it's no surprise that the liberal media are doing their best to start writing the narrative about presumptive Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, who presently serves as the commonwealth's attorney general.
In a December 4 Swampland blog post, Time's Alex Altman exemplified the boilerplate comparison we're already seeing in other outlets like the Washington Post: Republican Ken Cuccinelli is a "controversial by design," staunch Tea Party conservative who could be a risky bet for the governor's mansion while his likely Democratic sparring partner, Terry McAuliffe is an ideologically nondescript inside-the-Beltway mover and shaker (emphasis mine):
Tea Party activists have been touting Cuccinelli, 44, as a future presidential contender since shortly after he took office in 2010. But while they got the candidate they wanted, other Republicans suspect his ascension may hamper the party’s chances of holding onto the governor’s mansion. ”It’s been clear for a year that the party was going to nominate Cuccinelli,” says a Virginia Republican insider, who thinks Bolling would have been a better candidate in the general election. “Cuccinelli is a right-wing hero,” says the Republican, “but he’s a more partisan figure.” That matters in Virginia, whose changing demographics have turned it into a quintessential swing state.
Hard feelings linger. In bowing out, Bolling declined to endorse Cuccinelli’s campaign, saying he had “serious reservations about [Cuccinelli’s] ability to effectively and responsibly lead the state.” And his exit statement, which advertised his intention to “remain actively involved” as “a more independent voice,” seemed to many a hint that he was mulling a third-party bid. That seems highly unlikely. But if there is any state ripe for an independent, it might be Virginia, whose campaign-finance laws allow for unlimited contributions, and whose mega-donors have a record of supporting moderate candidates from both parties.
Cuccinelli, by contrast, is a dyed-in-the-wool Tea Partyer. In the first year of his tenure alone, Cuccinelli sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its plan to regulate greenhouse gases, argued Virginia can regulate first-trimester-abortion facilities, and lost a court fight to release emails from a former University of Virginia climate scientist, an effort his detractors cast as a witch hunt to boost skepticism of global warming. The conservative Cuccinelli is a controversial figure by design; in a way, it is his divisiveness that fueled his meteoric rise. “For all the criticism of me, there’s one thing you won’t hear anybody say, and that’s that I’ve pulled the wool over anyone’s eyes,” Cuccinelli told me in 2010. “One of my unique features as a politician is that I am so blunt and so forthright, and I put my cards on the table to such a degree people aren’t used to that there’s nothing left to hide.” Yet he is also a shrewd politician, and local observers note that over the past year, he has partially recast himself by focusing on issues with broader appeal, including efforts to mitigate soaring electricity costs and consumer protection efforts.
A potential match-up with McAuliffe would be a spectacle of contrasts. Though widely known in Washington, McAuliffe is less visible in Virginia despite residing there for more than two decades. He has never held elected office, and his first bid for the governorship of his adopted home state flopped, netting just 84,000 primary votes against a weak opponent after a multimillion-dollar campaign. But the former DNC chair is a well-connected Beltway player, with powerful allies in both parties and a robust fundraising network. (His “principal identity,” the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich wrote recently, is “Professional Best Friend to Bill Clinton.”) In a conspicuous demonstration of this insider status, McAuliffe hit the links at Joint Base Andrews on Sunday with Presidents 42 and 44, the kind of high-powered tee time that might ward off potential primary challengers.
McAuliffe’s sidestepped a significant obstacle when Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a popular former governor, announced last month that he would not mount a bid for another term. There could be room in the field for a Democratic candidate with base appeal; former Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello, a youthful star in the party’s liberal wing who was swept out of Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and is now the president and CEO of the liberal Center for American Progress, is said to be mulling a run. “Certainly many Democrats are unhappy with the choice of Terry McAuliffe,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “If the base had its druthers,” says the Virginia Republican, “they’d want Tom Perriello.”
For now, however, McAuliffe looks set to run unopposed. He’s begun rolling out support from prominent Democrats in an effort to position himself as the Establishment favorite. Whether a moneyed Democrat can topple an icon of the conservative grassroots in an off-year showdown — when the electorate is apt to be older, whiter and more conservative, with turnout likely to hover around 40% — is one of the more intriguing political questions of the coming year.
You'll notice that only times Altman used the word "liberal" were to describe potential McAuliffe challenger Tom Perriello. McAuliffe is an ideological blank slate is the impression Altman leaves. By contrast, Cuccinelli's would-be Republican opponent was tagged as only more stylistically moderate, but substantially about as right-of-center:
While Bolling was considered the more moderate of the two candidates, the differences between he and Cuccinelli are more stylistic than substantive. “I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that Bolling’s record is qualitatively different than Cuccinelli’s,” says Jamie Radtke, a Virginia Tea Party activist who lost a Senate primary last year. “Bolling has been a quiet, steady, reliable vote for conservatives,” she says, while Cuccinelli cultivated a more outspoken manner, willing to “create friction” by bucking his party at times.
The message is clear: Cuccinelli is a controversial righty while McAuliffe is a moderate, "establishment" Democrat. That the narrative the media wish to set and will continue to attempt to flesh out. Don't expect much curiosity from the media about where McAuliffe falls on the ideological spectrum.