How the VA Gubernatorial Race Really Affects the 2014 Midterms

by evanmcmurry

Today in correlation without causation:

Republicans should pay attention to what’s looking increasingly like a Democratic win in the making in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election; that ought to make them at least a little worried for the 2014 midterms.

Historically, whichever party is in the White House loses the Virginia gubernatorial election, just as the White House’s party loses House seats in midterm elections. The last time this did not happen was 40 years ago, in 1973.

Meh. Talk to Newt Gingrich and South Carolina about what 40-year-old electoral trends mean. More interesting is not the fact that the Democrats are winning an election with strong GOP fundamentals, but that they’re doing so with a candidate by all accounts weak (AP retractions aside); even ardent Democrats admit McAuliffe is missing a certain si se puede.

This last fact casts the 2014 House races in a different light. The chances of the Democrats retaking the House next November are still next to none, no matter how much recent Quinnipiac and Public Policy Polling results made everybody salivate. Democratic House candidates received 1.7 million more votes than their GOP counterparts in the 2012, when Democratic turnout was high, but still didn’t gain enough seats; the idea that they could replicate that result in a low-turnout, historically right-leaning midterm yet somehow do so in a more targeted way so as to maximize gains is simply far-fetched.

But! One way in which the government shutdown’s negative effects on the GOP brand is truly being felt is in candidate recruitment. As individual races appear more attainable, potential candidates who had written 2014 off are giving running another look. Via Greg Sargent:

Rep. Steve Israel, who is in charge of winning House races for Democrats, told Dem lawmakers at a closed door meeting today that GOP shutdown shenanigans were giving Dems a big recruiting boost, by prompting reluctant Dem candidates to express renewed interest in running in very tough GOP-held districts.

Fielding a strong bench is no small accomplishment. It makes midterm gains more likely, even if the majority is not attained. But more important over the longterm, it readies a bench of viable, tested candidates for 2016, when the fundamentals shift back in the Democrats’ favor, including in the Senate, when, unlike the previous two races, the GOP will be the party defending an excess of vulnerable seats.

In other words, the lesson of the Virginia gubernatorial race might not be Cuccinelli losing a race he should have won—for the fundamentals of 2014 can buoy even a very unpopular GOP—but McAuliffe winning a race he should have lost. After all, if McAuliffe can win, what might stronger candidates be able to accomplish? The mere fact of their trying is encouraging, if not for 2014, then certainly for 2016.

NB: If you haven’t watched Bill Kristol try to spin Cuccinelli’s loss as an endorsement of small government, do so, for the children.