#VAGov: Can McAuliffe govern just because he’s a happy drunk?

Written by . Posted in 2013 Elections, Virginia

Published on September 19, 2013

cuccinelliOn Monday, a PAC representing Northern Virginia’s growing technology industry endorsed Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for governor. Usually, these things don’t get a lot of attention because they don’t mean much, but this was a special case for a few reasons.

First, Cuccinelli has been having a devil of a time convincing subsidy-loving business mavens in Virginia that he’s not too much of a free-market-true-believer for them, so here was a noteworthy success with an industry often populated by a left-of-center crowd. Second, Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe’s allies tried to bully the group into changing its mind, complete with Democratic state senators openly threatening, by email, to stymie the technology agenda in the state legislature. Third, the story of how McAuliffe lost the group’s endorsement is super-hilarious — and rings true:

Two people present said that in response to a question about how he’d accomplish his goals as governor, McAuliffe told the PAC board that as an Irish Catholic he’d be adept at taking people out for drinks and doing whatever it takes to get things done. McAuliffe is well known as a schmoozer, but he seemed to badly misread his methodical audience with that answer, several of those present said.

On a question about whether Virginia should stay in something called the “open-trade-secrets pact,” Cuccinelli gave a thoroughly researched response, the person said.

But McAuliffe answered, according to the source: “ ‘I don’t know what that is. I’ll have to look it up later.’ And then he turns back to the guy [who asked] and said ‘Well, what do you think we should do?’ And the guy says, ‘We want Virginia to stay in it.’ And then Terry says, ‘Okay, we will.’ ”

The basic flaw here in McAuliffe’s — er — “presentation” to the PAC is mightily reinforced by the last detail in the Post’s coverage of last night’s forum in Richmond:

The speeches themselves fed into the narrative that emerged from the TechPAC flap: that McAuliffe is breezy while Cuccinelli grasps the details and gravity of the job. Both candidates had 45 minutes to address the group. Cuccinelli gave a 39- minute address heavy on wonky details. McAuliffe gave his standard 16-minute stump speech.

A Quinnipiac Poll from last month showed that experience and knowledge are Cuccinelli’s assets, and that McAuliffe appeals better to people’s feelings. This month’s poll confirms that, but McAuliffe’s “happy-drunk” appeal may be losing its appeal. Their newest poll shows him falling back from 48 to 44 percent, and now leading by just three points instead of six. He’s still the favorite, but maybe he’s not running away with this thing after all.