Last Tuesday’s Virginia elections were tight enough that everyone with an agenda could claim a victory — whether real or moral. But here are the facts:
No party holding the White House had won the Virginia governorship in the past 36 years, and no party had failed to win the governorship for subsequent terms since 1886 (and 1840 if you consider only major parties). Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s victory last Tuesday shattered both those streaks. And he won despite the usual post-presidential drop-off in Virginia’s Democratic base performance.
Yet despite the turnout disparities, Democrats still swept the two statewide offices decided last week. (The attorney general’s race is headed into a probable recount, with Democrats ahead by about 100 votes at press time.)
Rather than admit obvious defeat, conservatives are claiming moral victory because the race supposedly “tightened” after a late focus on ObamaCare. It is certainly true that the final margin — currently 2.5 points — was much tighter than the public polling suggested. But McAuliffe never led by 15 points, as one outlier poll suggested. The polling consensus was just 7 points, a healthy, but not dominant, lead. And McAuliffe’s internal pollster told The Washington Post that “Terry’s lead was never less than two points, and never greater than four.”
Moreover, it’s unlikely that ObamaCare cost Democrats support. Exit polling shows the Affordable Care Act was the most important issue of just 27 percent of the electorate, far below the 45 percent who cited the economy. And of those 27 percent, Ken Cuccinelli won just 49 percent to 45 percent.
Overall, the 53 percent to 46 percent opposition to ObamaCare was more than offset by the 42 percent who opposed the Tea Party movement. If you base your candidacy around a group of people supported by just 28 percent of the electorate, your chance of winning will necessarily be compromised.
So why did the race end up tighter than expected? The polling composite overstated libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis’s support by 2.5 points as conservative libertarians opted to make their votes count at the ballot box, while last-minute undecideds among the off-year electorate fell to Cuccinelli. Yet Republicans still lost.
Conservatives have their excuses, pinning the blame on their party establishment for “abandoning” Cuccinelli. But if they abandoned their candidate, they sure have a poor way of showing it: The Republican Governors Association spent $8 million, and the National Republican Committee spent another $3 million. Sure, McAuliffe outraised Cuccinelli by $15 million to $16 million, but that’s not the establishment’s fault.
Here’s a real takeaway from last Tuesday: Democrats ran a distinctly liberal campaign, in support of ObamaCare, marriage equality, expanded abortion rights, cap and trade, immigration reform and an assault weapons ban. Republicans, meanwhile, ran a severely conservative one.
And even with depressed liberal turnout, Democrats defied history and won two — and probably three — of the statewide offices on the ballot. ’Nuff said.
Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.