While many national Democrats breathed a sigh of relief as Terry McAuliffe eked out a win in Virginia’s Governor race, his narrow win ought to terrify Senate Democrats up for reelection next year. In just the final days of the campaign, the ObamaCare issue reversed momentum in the campaign and almost gave Republican Ken Cuccinelli a victory in a race many expected to be a blowout for Democrats. The result is an ominous omen for 2014.
McAuliffe outspent Cuccinelli by around $15 million. Outside left-wing groups poured millions into Virginia to attack Cuccinelli as too extreme. National Republicans gave early support to Cuccinelli, but largely pulled out of the race in October. The Cuccinelli campaign was basically dark in the Washington, DC media market the final two weeks.
A segment of the state Republican party was openly hostile to Cuccinelli, and business donors in the state largely shunned him. A Libertarian candidate received a surprising level of support and undoubtedly siphoned off votes that would otherwise have gone to Cuccinelli. McAuliffe enjoyed a united party and was able to parade an A-list of Democrat surrogates, including President Obama, Joe Biden, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. The Clinton’s, in particular, pulled out all the stops for their old friend.
I could go on. Cuccinelli had about every metric of a campaign running against him, yet he very nearly won. His surprise showing boiled down to one thing: ObamaCare.
Terry McAuliffe never voted for ObamaCare. Every Senate Democrat running for reelection next year did, however. Because ObamaCare passed with the minimum number of votes, moreover, each of these Democrats passed the deciding vote for the health care law. But for any one of their votes, there would be no ObamaCare.
Senate Democrats cannot have missed the fact that neither President Obama nor Joe Biden even mentioned the Affordable Care Act while stumping for McAuliffe. In exit polls, 53% of Virginia voters oppose ObamaCare. Cuccinelli won Independents by nine points, largely, presumably, on the health care issue.
ObamaCare was only an issue in the Virginia race for the final few days. Just a handful more days as an issue probably would have delivered Cuccinelli a victory. The problem for Senate Democrats is that it is likely to be an issue for their entire campaigns.