Republicans mull 'what ifs' in Cuccinelli race

Ken Cuccinelli's suprisingly close race for Virginia governor has Tea Party Republicans steaming about a lack of support from the national party. Few Republicans in Washington gave Cuccinelli a chance in the race and most big money men kept their checkbooks closed.

This has led to a painful examination of the outcome and the asking of an uncomfortable question; could Cuccinelli have won with better siupport from the establishment?


The Republican candidate's surprise showing touched off a round of recriminations among the GOP's conservative and moderate wings - between Republicans who say Cuccinelli's strict profile on social issues antagonized critical middle-of-the-road voters and those who say a good conservative candidate was tossed overboard by his party leadership. A lopsided Democratic victory might have given moderates a clear leg up in that debate; instead, the battle between the two factions over what - if anything - needs to change is bound to rage on.

"This isn't a total loss at all," Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins told the crowd after Cuccinelli conceded the governor's race. "Keep in mind that Terry McAuliffe got less than 50 percent of the vote, so he does not have a mandate to do anything. And looking at the House races ... we still have a [Republican-led] House that will block any crazy ideas he may have."

Mullins blasted out-of-state Democratic money and media bias as the major sources of Cuccinelli's problems in the race.

"Our candidates are decent, honest family men. They love their families, they love their God, they love their country and this commonwealth but for the last six months they've been nonstop demonized by Democrats," Mullins said before the race was called. "[Democrats say] we hate women, we hate minorities, we hate everything. But that's not who these people are."

He wasn't alone in blaming the election results on outside forces. Cuccinelli and GOP lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson treated their losses Tuesday night as just a precursor to future battles that have yet to be fought.

Cuccinelli, conceding the race to McAuliffe, said that regardless of the outcome his supporters sent a message to President Barack Obama about the Democratic health care law.

"Despite being outspent by an unprecedented $15 million, this race came down to the wire because of Obamacare," he told supporters.

Opposition to Obamacare might have been worth 5 points to Cuccinelli. Voters who otherwise might have stayed home or even voted for McAuliffe pulled the GOP lever because of the catastrophe unfolding before them. This raises an interesting question - and an uncomfortable one for establishment Republicans; are Tea Party candidates in a better position to exploit the Obamacare issue because of their strong, vocal opposition to it compared to establishment candidates?

Since this was an off year election, there isn't a large enough sampling to make a definitive call. Obamacare as an issue will no doubt work better in some districts and states than others. But Cuccinelli has certainly given the rest of the Republican party something to think about when it comes to running an underdog campaign against a far better funded Democrat.

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