WashPost Gears Up Spin Machine for 2013 Va. Governor's Race: GOP Candidate a 'Firebrand' Running Against Dem 'Businessman'

November 29th, 2012 5:56 PM

The same newspaper that succeeded in felling Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) with its constant drumbeat of the "macaca" kerfuffle and which tried but failed to scuttle Bob McDonnell's 2009 run for Virginia governor with Thesisgate is ginning up its spin operation in service of the Democrats once again, looking forward 11 months into the future with the 2013 gubernatorial election in the Old Dominion.

Witness the November 29 front-pager by Errin Haines and Laura Vozzella entitled "Choice for governor of Va. may be stark." Right off the bat, we have bias by labeling which casts the Republican as an ideologue and the Democrat as a pragmatist.

"Virginia's gubernatorial races traditionally have been genteel affairs, featuring polite candidates extolling centrist views," Haines and Vozzella opened their story. But with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling dropping out of contention for the GOP nomination, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, "a conservative firebrand" will likely face off against "businessman Terry McAuliffe, who headed the national Democratic Party in the 1990s."

"Neither is the kind of candidate Virginians have tended to support in the commonwealth's off-year elections for governor," Haines and Vozzella added in the next graf, which could be a gentle way of skipping around McAuliffe's dismal third-place showing in the 2009 Democratic primary, in which he ran on boosting Virginia's economy with windmills and high-speed rail.

But no, the very next paragraphs featured a Republican colleague slamming the state attorney general:

In fact, Bolling said Wednesday that he would not back Cuccinelli and did not dismiss a possible independent run.

“I have serious reservations about his ability to effectively and responsibly lead our state,” Bolling said of Cuccinelli. “Given those reservations, I could not in good conscience endorse his candidacy for governor.”

Haines and Vozzella then turned to Jessica Taylor of the Rothenberg Political Report to handicap the race:

Assuming Terry McAuliffe is the nominee, you have two people that aren’t really toward the center of the party. You have this growing independent base in Virginia, that’s really where the race could be won, and we haven’t really seen either one try to talk to that yet.

Okay, so we have on record that McAuliffe is not a centrist. But here's how Haines and Vozzella go on to describe the partisan liabilities of the candidates:

Both candidates evoke strong partisan passions. As attorney general, Cuccinelli has gained national attention by challenging climate change research, going after the federal health-care overhaul in the courts and supporting stricter rules for the state’s abortion clinics. McAuliffe, a longtime McLean resident, has been viewed as a Virginia outsider and a Washington insider. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he chaired the Democratic National Committee, and he often appeared on TV talk shows to advocate the party line.

Cuccinelli's policy positions are staked out, but McAuliffe's partisanship is boiled down to his former DNC chief status and presence as a talking head on TV, nothing about where he stands on the abortion issue or ObamaCare or taxes, for example.

It was then quickly back to Bolling, who provided ammunition to present the state GOP as too closed to debate between its moderate and conservative wings:

Bolling said his party’s about-face on the nominating process “created too many obstacles for us to overcome.” He also said a divisive convention battle could do long-term harm to the state party, which was unsuccessful in the presidential and U.S. Senate contests this year.

Bolling pledged in his announcement to remain involved as “a more independent voice” in the campaign. The wording led some political observers to speculate that Bolling plans to make a bid as an independent.

While "[t]he dynamic created by the lieutenant governor’s exit could lead to a brutally negative race aimed at turning out the base of each party," Haines and Vozzella sought to assure readers that Cuccinelli was the hard-charging firebrand and that the "dealmaker" McAuliffe may appeal to swing voters interested in economic growth, not necessarily limited, constitutional government:

Mo Elleithee, a national Democratic consultant, said Bolling’s decision to bow out “speaks volumes about the state of the Virginia Republican Party.”

“It seems to be the wrong lesson learned from 2012,” said Elleithee, who worked on McAuliffe’s 2009 campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and former governor Timothy M. Kaine’s successful U.S. Senate race this year. “Bill Bolling felt like he had absolutely no path and that the ideologues sort of had it locked up for Cuccinelli. In 2012, Virginians sent a pretty strong message that they didn’t want hyperpartisanship.”

McAuliffe is known as “a dealmaker,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes gubernatorial races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, and Cuccinelli “is far more ideological in a lot of ways.”

“I think [Cuccinelli] walks around with a copy of the Constitution, and McAuliffe doesn’t,” she said.

Running in 2009 on the slogan “Bob’s for Jobs!,” Robert F. McDonnell rebranded himself as someone primarily focused on economic development. He managed to do that despite the unearthing of a master’s thesis in which he was critical of working women, gays and a Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraceptives by unmarried couples. McDonnell said during the campaign that his views had changed since he wrote the paper as an evangelical student in his 30s.

Some observers said McAuliffe might be able to recast himself as a pro-business moderate — “Mark Warner lite,” as one conservative put it — especially given the relatively centrist positions his friend Bill Clinton took as president. Taylor said that might work, even though as DNC chairman and as a candidate for governor in 2009, McAuliffe was no middle-of-the-road Democrat, she said.

Anticipate much more of this as the 2013 Virginia campaign season heats up. The liberal media is eager to see a Democrat elected to fill the governor's chair in Richmond, especially Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey could be good omen of midterm success in 2014.