Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli bears more resemblance to an Aaron Sorkin-written, straw-man Republican, or a legend that feminists tell each other while holding flashlights under their chins, than an actual three-dimensional human being.
Since assuming office in 2010 he's been embarrassing Virginia, and more importantly, getting national attention, in a manner normally reserved for Confederate sympathizers, be it by trying to forbid anti-discrimination policies, trying to shut down Virginia abortion clinics under the guise of health concerns, harassing climate scientists, unsuccessfully filing costly lawsuits against Obamacare or simply protecting your children from the scourge of the breast on the Virginia seal.
This past week Cuccinelli added another track to his greatest-hits collection, responding to radio host Cheri Jacobus' conspiracy theory about Barack Obama stealing the presidential election by saying, "I completely agree with you." (The hilarious part? The basis for the theory was that Obama lost the states with the strictest new voter ID requirements, which included Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee — you know, all those states that normally would go blue).
Of course, none of this seems to bother the Virginia Republican Party, or at least those Republicans not named Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Since Bolling's withdrawal from the gubernatorial primary last week — he's declined to endorse the Cooch and even may run as an independent — Cuccinelli is all but assured to be the GOP's nominee for governor in the 2013 election.
Now ordinarily, Cuccinelli might seem too openly extreme to be elected governor, particularly with Virginia's evolving demographics causing it to go blue in two consecutive presidential elections. But the Virginia Democratic Party isn't really helping matters. Its nominee is likely to be a former Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, who unsuccessfully ran for the nomination in 2009 against state Sen. Creigh Deeds. Yes, you read that correctly: Virginia's last, best hope against a Governor Cuccinelli is someone who couldn't beat the guy who ended up losing to Bob McDonnell by 17 points.
This matchup presents much the same problem that Democrats had in 2004's presidential election and, to some extent, the Republicans had in 2012: One side has someone with a truly enthusiastic base and bona fides he can cite on the campaign trail, whereas the other boasts a candidate who's merely paid his dues and owes his ascendancy less to enthusiasm among the vox populi than to his party apparatus deciding he's their man.
In the wake of President Obama's decisive re-election, it would be easy to claim premature victory. The Republican Party's demise can be linked to aggressive homophobia, misogyny and hostility to the poor, all key planks for the GOP during the past several years.
That's all well and good at the national level. Yes, it's great to see people such as Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin and Allen West go down in flames. But it never pays to be complacent, especially considering these same greatly exaggerated reports of the party's death (or need to adapt or die) were circulating around the time of Obama's inauguration, which was followed by the election of Cuccinelli as attorney general that very same year.
Given the damage Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly have done to women's rights, gay and lesbian rights and public education in Virginia, as governor, Cuccinelli would be starting out ahead as far as that goes. In a purple state like Virginia, off-year elections turn out in conservatives' favor much of the time.
That isn't to say all is lost. McAuliffe could run a good enough ground game to come out on top, or Cuccinelli could fail to adequately conceal the radicalism of his record. It's fair to say a gubernatorial election will receive a lot more scrutiny than one for attorney general, particularly given the infamy Cuccinelli has earned at the national level. But this last point has its own set of frightening implications from the other direction: When McDonnell was elected in 2009, he wasn't nearly as high-profile a figure as Cuccinelli is now; only his infamous, reactionary Regent University thesis hinted at his eventual style of governance.
In other words, if Cuccinelli ekes out a win, it will be spun as a mandate for the arch-conservative policies he's embraced since 2010.
The gubernatorial campaign season is still a long way off. But if Virginia progressives think that Obama's re-election and George Allen's defeat mean they can enjoy their victories and tune out politics for a while, they may be in for an even ruder awakening than they got in 2009. S
Zack Budryk is a freelance writer living in Richmond.
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