Cooch Reaps the Whirlwind

While Politico may be exaggerating “Democratic disarray” over the debt limit today, the site has some very good news for Democrats in the Virginia governor’s race: the government shutdown over Obamacare may be killing Ken Cuccinelli’s chance at a comeback. Or so says a Politico-sponsored poll, the first public survey of the race to be released after the shutdown. Here’s Alex Burns’ report:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe has opened up a significant lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race amid broad public disapproval of the federal government shutdown, according to a POLITICO poll of the 2013 gubernatorial election.

McAuliffe, the former national Democratic Party chairman, is now 9 points ahead of Cuccinelli, the current state attorney general, in a race that also includes Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis. In the survey, McAuliffe drew support from 44 percent of Virginians versus 35 percent for Cuccinelli and 12 percent for Sarvis.

Could, as Republicans have suggested, voters now expressing a preference for Sarvis break to Cooch at the end? Doesn’t look likely:

Four weeks from Election Day, McAuliffe also leads Cuccinelli in a one-on-one contest, 52 percent to 42 percent.

Burns notes that the unpopularity of the shutdown in federal-employee-heavy Virginia has hurt Cuccinelli in two different ways: his party bears a disproportionate share of the blame, and the Obamacare linkage means Cooch–for whom opposition to the law has been a signature position for years–has been unable to make hay about “glitches” in Obamacare implementation.

One especially interesting finding in the poll is that Virginians actually favor new EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants by a 45-33 margin. I’m sure the regs are wildly unpopular in coal-producing SW VA, but that region is far less pivotal (and less important to Democrats) than it used to be.

Characteristically, the Cuccinelli campaign reacted to the poll by attacking the Democratic half (PPP) of the bipartisan polling team that conducted the survey for Politico. As we learned last year, campaigns that seek to kill the messenger of adverse public opinion trends are often in trouble.

Well, if these trends hold, I can only say it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Cooch’s whole career has been rooted in the radicalized conservative movement that has brought us the government shutdown. It’s a little late for him to dissociate himself from it. He’s reaping the whirlwind now.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.