If I am overly fond of quoting NBC's The West Wing when it comes to American politics it is only because it is a cache of among the best one-liners and summations of the realities of the entire field. This post's title comes from something White House Press Secretary CJ Craig says at a Rock the Vote rally. She is exhorting the youth to turn out and vote because for Democrats, the involvement of low-commitment voters is what makes or breaks an election cycle.
Virginia - once a staunch bulwark of Southern Republican conservatism - how has two Democratic Senators and has twice voted, not just for a Democrat, but for a black Democrat to occupy the White House. These elections saw massive turnout and high voter involvement, particularly in the youth, African American, and Hispanic communities. Droves of voters in Northern Virginia, Tidewater, and at colleges at universities across the commonwealth delivered the Old Dominion to Democrats in a way never even thought possible just a few years prior.
And yet here we stand, just a few months away from potentially electing, not just a Republican to the office of Governor but a man who is almost a caricature of everything that is wrong with today's Republican Party. Today is July 20, 2013 Real Clear Politics has Terry McAuliffe leading Ken Cuccinelli by a mere 1.3 points: less than half of the traditional margin of error.
To be clear, Cuccinelli would be unelectable in an ordinary election year. His radicalized stances on sexuality, climate change, and women's health issues stand in stark contrast to those held by the majority of Virginians on those same issues. Yet, this election is much closer than those that defeated far more moderate Republicans and the reason for that is its much lower profile.
Virginia holds its state elections in off-years, meaning that there are no national races with their wall-to-wall media coverage to draw voters to the polls. As a result, the tiny percentage of voters that do turn out will have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of the race. If you've ever thought your vote didn't count, Virginia's state elections are there to prove otherwise.
And prove otherwise they do. Because the Republican Party has been traditionally more successful at motivating the more radicalized aspects of its base, candidates who wouldn't ordinarily have a shot at electoral success can make a real go of a state-office run. That radicalized base pushes the entire Republican Party right during state elections and simultaneously disadvantages the Democratic Party with its more diffuse and difficult to mobilize base.
The result is what we saw in the VA Gubernatorial Debate in Hot Springs tonight where Democrat Terry McAuliffe repeatedly pointed out Republican Ken Cuccinelli's history of referring to homosexuals as "soulless" and "self destructive" and Cuccinelli responded by noting that his "personal beliefs about hte personal challenges of homosexuality [hadn't] changed."
Why does Cuccinelli think he can get away with saying things like that? Because decisions are made by people who show up.