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EDITORIAL: A lame result in Virginia

Terry McAuliffe gets to be a governor without a mandate

- - Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The days following an election are spent reflecting on the lessons drawn from what went wrong and what went right. For Virginia Republicans, not much went right. For Democrats, just enough went right to win.

Instead of popping the champagne corks to toast a landslide, Terry McAuliffe squeaked by with fewer than 55,000 votes of 2.2 million cast. That's not much of a margin. He outspent state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee, by $15 million. He gets no champagne, only warm beer.

Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, drew 145,507 votes, 6.5 percent of the total. Had he not been on the ballot, most of those votes would likely have gone to Mr. Cuccinelli. He was the effective spoiler, but he failed to draw 10 percent of the vote, which would have given the Libertarian Party automatic ballot access for state and local offices through 2021. No surprise then, as the website The Blaze discovered, that the largest contributor to Mr. Sarvis was a major fundraiser for Barack Obama.

The lack of enthusiasm for Mr. McAuliffe is revealed in the matter of the governor-elect's coattails. He didn't have any. Republicans retained a veto-proof lock on the House of Delegates, winning 67 of 100 seats. State Sen. Mark Obenshain, a Republican unencumbered by a third-party opponent, won his race to succeed Mr. Cuccinelli as attorney general by a razor-thin margin of 753 votes.

Mr. Obenshain's Democratic opponent, Mark Herring, pulled out all the dirty tricks in his race, copying the "war on women" attacks that have become a Democratic theme. Mr. Obenshain parried this by prominently featuring his daughter, Tucker, in his TV advertising, and it worked. Mr. Cuccinelli, on the other hand, shielded his five young daughters from the spotlight. To suggest that a man with a wife and five daughters wants to join a "war on women" is preposterous. "I don't know why he didn't [display his daughters]," said a Republican strategist. "It's not like we didn't know what was coming."

Democrats will use the "war on women" theme, as demeaning to women as it is, for as long as it works. Negative campaigns, alas, work. With unlimited money, a campaign can bury an opponent under an avalanche of false, character-assassinating television commercials. Climbing out of the debris of such an avalanche requires money and more money, and the establishment Republicans did their best to starve Mr. Cuccinelli's campaign. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, petulant and bitter over losing the gubernatorial nomination to Mr. Cuccinelli, refused to endorse the Republican candidate.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Republican incumbent, didn't help Mr. Cuccinelli, either, poisoning the Republican brand with an enormous tax increase in an election year, together with tainting his personal reputation by improperly taking gifts from constituents. This made it difficult for Mr. Cuccinelli to stand out as the clean alternative to Mr. McAuliffe and his dingy business reputation.

Mr. McAuliffe takes the oath of office in January with no mandate for his tax-and-spend agenda and that reputation for shady business, and he'll have no means to implement his schemes, given the Republican domination in Richmond. He has no credible hope of fulfilling his campaign pledge to expand Virginia's Medicaid rolls under Obamacare. This makes him something of a very lame duck, offering nothing but more quackery. God bless Virginia.