Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Shake Up" at the Cuccinelli campaign

Cuccinelli is trying to change course, but is it too late? Rearranging the deck chairs after you've already struck the iceberg probably won't change much. There's a lot of hard work ahead for McAuliffe, the Coordinated Campaign, and Virginia Democrats, but there's no question that McAuliffe--and probably the entire Democratic statewide ticket--have an edge right now.

All of Cuccinelli's mistakes are coming back to haunt him. His refusal to resign in January--as is the custom for Attorney Generals in Virginia--meant that Cuccinelli could not fundraise during the General Assembly session. McAuliffe, an exceptional fundraiser, was able to leap out to a commanding money lead. A series of scandals then broke in the spring and summer months, all with one thing in common: Cuccinelli's various conflicts of interest. Having decided to keep his job, it was revealed that all too often he was unable to do it because he had crossed some ethical line.

In the case of Star Scientific and Giftgate, the impact was dramatically increased by Cuccinelli's mulish refusal to return or donate the gifts he had received--and in some cases had solicited--when Governor Bob McDonnell announced in late July that he would return his gifts. Cuccinelli had a brief window of opportunity to limit his exposure on this issue.

He should have announced that, while he did not believe the gifts were improper, he was returning his gifts to avoid the appearance of anything improper. He could have begun the process of moving beyond Giftgate during the summer, when few were paying attention. Instead, he waited until September 10th, when everyone was back from vacation and paying full attention to donate the value of his gifts to a charity related to one of his donors. The reaction was almost universally negative: the sentiment "too little, too late" was by far the most common comment on news stories about the donation.

It remains to be seen what impact last week's news will have on Cuccinelli's numbers and the direction of this race. The last poll to be published--Purple Strategies--was completed before the news of--and negative reaction to--Cuccinelli's donation had spread. It will be interesting to see if the next poll contains sampling performed after Cuccinelli's September 10th donation and if there is a negative impact on Cuccinelli's numbers; I suspect there will be.

All this bad news was capped yesterday by publication of both campaigns' fundraising numbers. The long and short of it is this: on August 31, 2013 Ken Cuccinelli's campaign had $2,234,369 on hand while Terry McAuliffe's campaign had $5,010,223--a more than two to one advantage as the campaigns enter the "sprint to the finish."

This has led to the Cuccinelli campaign acquiring a new adjective; increasingly the adjective "losing" is being applied by conservative bloggers. Political journalists are beginning to ask why Ken Cuccinelli is losing. The next question is when will Republican donors pull the plug and stop supporting Cuccinelli? When will they decide to save their money for 2014?

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