There is no shortage of interpretations as to what happened in Virginia on election day. The most popular explanations as to why Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, lost (to Terry McAuliffe) were either that Cuccinelli was too far to the right to win over centrist and independent voters, or because the GOP establishment bailed on him. That the race was far closer than most people thought left both sides still at odds over who was responsible for the loss.
Regardless of fault, this much is undeniable: Republicans lost the race for governor. And for lieutenant governor. And now, as more and more ballots are being tallied, the GOP candidate trails in the race for state attorney general as well.
There is still a statewide official count that has yet to be released (expected on Nov. 25), but no matter who is declared the winner, a demand for a recount is likely.
The last time we checked, Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring led the Republican candidate, state Sen. Mark Obenshain, by 164 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, making this the closest statewide race in Old Dominion history (though not by much; Bob McDonnell, the current governor and then the GOP candidate for attorney general, defeated Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds in 2005 by 360 votes).
This is not a prediction of the actual outcome. But an Obenshain defeat, should that happen, would be more significant than simply the Democrats claiming a clean sweep on Nov. 5. It would mean that the Republicans won’t have an obvious gov. candidate in 2017. (And don’t lecture me about jumping ahead to the next election four years down the road; everyone knows that as the only state whose governor is limited to one consecutive term, the race for Virginia’s next chief executive always begins the day after election day.) And without an obvious candidate, the intra-party feuding could very well go on until then.
After 1989, the last time the Democrats swept all three statewide offices, Republicans had no obvious candidate to turn to for 1993. They went with someone with a famous father but not much of a record — George Allen, son of the famed football coach, who served just one year in Congress before his district was eliminated. Allen won, and won big, and so maybe the GOP will have similar luck in 2017. But that fact is, in the five gubernatorial elections since, each Republican nominee has been a statewide elected official. Of course, before anyone can talk about a Republican comeback in 2017, it should be noted that there is no sign of any abating of the Tea Party vs. “establishment” squabbling that hampered the GOP this year.
Here’s a list of the Republican nominees for governor of Virginia since 1977 and what position they held going into the election:
2009: Bob McDonnell (won) — attorney general
2005: Jerry Kilgore (lost) — attorney general
2001: Mark Earley (lost) — attorney general
1997: Jim Gilmore (won) — attorney general
1993: George Allen (won) — former congressman
1989: Marshall Coleman (lost) — former attorney general
1985: Wyatt Durrette (lost) — former state delegate
1981: Marshall Coleman (lost) — attorney general
1977: John Dalton (won) — lieutenant governor