Virginia Race: Hillary, Not Obama, Big Winner
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 10:19 PM
By: John Gizzi
As Democrats celebrated the surprisingly tight race for governor of Virginia on Tuesday, more than a few observers were pointing out that President Barack Obama helped Ken Cuccinelli close the gap in the race.
The big winner in former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe's victory, besides McAuliffe, was Hillary Clinton -- the Democrats' likely presidential nominee in 2016.
"Terry McAuliffe's win was Clinton-related, not Obama-related," said former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who also served as a past chairman of the Republican National Committee.
"The friendship between the McAuliffe and Clinton families is well known, and Hillary Clinton really put her chips down on him for the general election," Gilmore said.
With polls last week showing McAuliffe beginning to pull away from Republican State Attorney General Cuccinelli, Obama made a brief appearance on behalf of the Democratic nominee on Saturday.
That appearance and an avalanche of stories about the problems with the Obamacare website were linked to Cuccinelli's late rise in the polls.
But the Clintons had been working in the political vineyards for weeks to help McAuliffe, their longtime personal friend and fundraiser.
In a four-day swing throughout the Old Dominion State in late October, Bill Clinton stumped vigorously for McAuliffe.
Vividly contrasting what he called Cuccinelli's "political extremism" with McAuliffe's reputation as a problem-solver, Clinton brought Democratic rallies to their feet by saying, "The virtue of political extremism is that once you get people all torn up and upset with steam coming out of their ears, they will show up and vote . . . Will you care as much as they do and show up and vote?"
Taking his lead from Clinton, McAuliffe in the closing days referred to himself and his lieutenant governor and attorney general running mates as a "ticket in the mainstream of Virginia" that was running against "their tea party ticket."
McAuliffe was also the first candidate on whose behalf Hillary Clinton made a campaign speech after resigning as secretary of state last year. And both Clintons hosted a high-dollar fundraiser to benefit McAuliffe.
"There's no question who Terry will be [supporting] for president in 2016, and the governorship gives Terry a powerful position from which to help Hillary Clinton," former Republican Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, a past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Newsmax.
"Virginia has one of the strongest governorships in the nation, and the governor is in a position to make appointments to university boards for businessmen that want them," he said. "All of that will work on Hillary Clinton's behalf if she runs in '16."
If Obama had any right to claim credit, Gilmore told Newsmax, "it was only because Ken Cuccinelli in the closing days of the campaign said that this race was 'a referendum on Obamacare.' Well, the president could say he won the referendum."
Gilmore's opinion was seconded by pollster John Zogby, who conducted survey research on the Virginia contest in its final week.
"It was a win for Obama because of Cuccinelli saying it was a referendum on Obamacare," Zogby told Newsmax, "but it was obviously more of a win for the Clintons. McAuliffe was their guy, and they know how to claim a win."
Zogby said his tracking polls showed that 30 percent of Virginia's black voters were undecided 10 days before the election.
But then Bill Clinton took to the stump on McAuliffe's behalf and "the African-American voters, along with voters in suburban Washington, D.C., began moving into McAuliffe's column in a big way. The Clintons gave him their imprimatur, and that was obviously very important."
"Terry McAuliffe's victory is due in large measure to Bill and Hillary Clinton, no ifs, ands, or buts," veteran pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax. "His credibility comes from his association with the Clintons, and his fundraising was immeasurably aided by the Clintons."
As to the impact the outcome in Virginia will have on the next presidential race, Schoen said: "His victory in large measure is an endorsement of the Clinton brand and of Hillary Clinton's prospective candidacy in 2016."
An interesting and somewhat different post-mortem on McAuliffe's win came from someone who knows both Clintons well and played a key role in Bill Clinton's rise to the governorship of Arkansas and the presidency.
Rather than give the Clintons credit for the Virginia results, consultant-commentator Dick Morris pointed out to Newsmax that "the Republican establishment, particularly the Republican Governors' Association, was head-faked by the government shutdown. After the rash of negative publicity showered on the Republicans, they figured Virginia was not competitive and shut off cash to the Republican candidate."
"By the time it was evident that Obamacare is backfiring on the president and that the race was tightening, they were too late to reverse their trajectory. In the final week, McAuliffe had a 4-to-1 advantage in paid ads and had broadcast media almost entirely to himself. As a result, his lead widened," Morris said.
"Had the RGA stayed in the game, he might have been defeated."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.