The dirty black-glassed building smooshed up against the Beltway’s Mixing Bowl interchange does not look like the campaign headquarters of a winner.
The underground garage is all but shuttered for renovation; the candidate’s office is hard to find on the old-timey building sign (he’s just above the office for adult orthodontics, just below Bob’s Barber Shop); the elevator will give even the most fearless rider a jolt of claustrophobic fear as the doors close.
Inside is no better: The headquarters is tiny, but even still, all but empty. Sad pictures of state buildings dot the white walls; soiled and mismatched chairs fill a makeshift conference room; a half-empty box of Dunkin’ Donuts sits on the floor. On the window, scrawled in black marker, is: “19 DAYS.” There is no water, no coffee; a sign in the bathroom reminds users to unlock the door when they leave (which they have to do anyway to get out).
The sixth-floor office belongs to Ken Cuccinelli, Republican candidate for governor of Virginia. He is losing by more than 7 percentage points in an average of all recent polls; Politico puts him down by 9.
His opponent: The horribly flawed Terry McAuliffe, moneyman for the Clintons, native New Yorker, resident of posh McLean. And yet, Mr. Cuccinelli, former state senator and attorney general, graduate of the University of Virginia, lawyer, engineer, Catholic (father of seven), continues to fall further behind with each poll.
Last week, a handful of reporters and editors swung by the campaign headquarters for a chat. Mr. Cuccinelli entered to see most of the visitors in suits. “Sorry I didn’t wear a tie,” he said. But he was wearing a tie; he wasn’t wearing a jacket. An odd opening.
Over the next hour, the flagging candidate would dryly run through his campaign platform planks, each less interesting than the last. He wants to create jobs, jobs, jobs; offers a billion-dollar tax cut; plans to streamline government; is “pro-liberty”; has an anti-drone policy (for some reason).
But the more he spoke, the more he seemed surprised by his lack of success in a state that is still more red than purple, despite two wins by Barack Obama. And he seemed shocked by the mendacious campaign of his opponent — absolutely shocked.
“They’ve pounded the bejabbers out of me with a lot more money,” he offered. “Doesn’t matter if they’re telling the truth — they frequently don’t. I’ve never seen lying like I’ve seen in this race. And, you know, how do you deal with that?”
Like many Republicans before him, he blamed the media. “Their campaign puts out lies, it gets reported, and once it’s reported, it looks like a fact to voters. So, at that point, it becomes very hard to undo,” he said. The media “is the filter through which people learn about the race. Fair or unfair, that’s just the reality.” Uh, yeah.
The telegenic 45-year-old also blamed the federal shutdown for distracting voters from the gubernatorial race, but promised that late October will bring a “rush of attention.”
“And it’s all in minds. You don’t see it anywhere — it’s not like more cars on the street, more water in the pipe. It’s just in voters’ minds, one at a time.” Um, OK.
He said his opponent’s poll lead is folly: “We’re not 7 points behind; 1, 2,” he declared. “The truth is our friend.”
Of course, Mr. McAuliffe has enjoyed glowing coverage from Northern Virginia’s hometown paper, The Washington Post. Bill and Hillary Clinton have lent an air of celebrity to his campaign. Virtually no one in the state is talking about the multitude of scandals swirling around the Democratic candidate, the repeated flip-flops, the flat-out lies. And in one of the nation’s lowest-taxed states, voters seem either uninformed or unconcerned about Mr. McAuliffe’s plan to raise taxes by $1.4 billion — that’s $1,700 per year per family — in the midst of the Obama Recession.
“Terry has an unbelievable litany of baggage,” the exasperated candidate said. “It’s actually so big, what do you, you know, what do you talk to people about? I mean, Lincoln Bedroom, Air Force One, Teamsters, unindicted co-conspirator, you know, campaign stuff from the Clinton years.”
Sadly, Mr. Cuccinelli is head and shoulders above his Democratic opponent — in every way. He would make an excellent governor. But few voters seem aware of his vast experience, his decades of steady service for Virginians, or even the broadest strokes of his campaign pledges. And two weeks from now, he will be shellacked in an election seen as a harbinger for the 2014 midterms — and Hillary’s expected 2016 run.
Perhaps it’s more the messenger than the message: The Republican can’t seem to break past the filter to reach voters.
Still, maybe his claim will bear out: Maybe Virginians really will start paying attention in the campaign’s final two weeks and he’ll close that massive gap. And maybe the candidate himself will finally get angry, ditch the monotonous drone of his recent campaign stops and shout some sense into voters.
Asked if he has something “in his back pocket” for the final push, he said: “Not that I’m going to tell you on Oct. 19th. We can talk about it in a month.” Hmm. Evasion, or a secret Super Plan for Victory.
Right now, everything points to a thumping. Especially that half-empty box of Dunkin’ Donuts. And sadly, Virginians don’t seem to even know they’re about to suffer four horrible years.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.