Actually...the pollsters in Virginia were right on. Everyone seems to forget that all polls have a margin of error of at least 3-4 percent; some are even higher. When you factor in margins of error plus Republicans' deliberate attempt to disenfranchise as many people as possible (most of whom would likely be voting Democratic), combined with what seemed to me to be a bit of overconfidence by Democrats toward the end, and McAuliffe's win was right on target.
(There were people on this site declaring that it would be a McAuliffe “landslide” even as polls showed him barely ahead of his opponent by single digits, for instance. That type of talk in Democratic circles is politically lethal, when you consider that a large number of "soft" Democrats and Democratic Party constituent groups tend not to get out and vote in large percentages to begin with, especially during non-presidential years. When they hear that the Democrat is “going to win” that gives them even less incentive to get out and vote.)
There is something to be said for giving voters cause for optimism. However, there can sometimes be a fine line between optimism and overconfidence. And, this year in Virginia, we might have found the perfect case study.
In fact, a year ago, it seemed implausible that voters in a Southern state would decide to elect as their top state official a carpetbagger from New York (He's originally from Syracuse, NY) who is known to be more of a craven, partisan campaign finance maven as opposed to a populist “man of the people.” McAuliffe is neither charismatic nor beloved, even in Democratic circles, nor is he even a native-born Virginian. And yet, he managed to “win,” (or, at the very least, he managed to barely not lose to a highly flawed, radical, right-wing nutjob).
In a sense, the fact that Cuccinelli came within three percentage points of winning election to governor, considering how repulsive his positions were, especially on women's rights, and his shameless misuse of his Attorney General's office (overseeing the last minute voter purge, for instance), is not the least bit soothing to me. It shows me, just as it will be interpreted by Tea Partiers, that radical, right-wing extremism is not a deal-breaker with large numbers of voters, even in so-called “swing states” like Virginia.
As far as Obenshain, it appears that he and Cuccinelli were able to steal the Attorney General's office, by deliberately, with malice aforethought, trying to disenfranchise as many likely Democratic voters as they could, by “purging” voters from the voting rolls just a couple of months before an election. (When, by the way, do Democrats plan to introduce legislation nationally and in the states making it illegal for election officials to start tampering with the voting rolls at the last minute?)
But one of my biggest disappointments with this year's elections was the counterproductive behavior of many Democrats, including many on this site, who undermine their own cause by prematurely declaring races “over” before they are over.
Many people in the Democratic Party, as reflected on this site, had virtually declared the Virginia gubernatorial race over with a couple of weeks ago. The impact that that has on “soft” voters (those who are not particularly enthused about the voting process nor nearly as motivated as us political “junkies”) could well be the difference, not only in McAuliffe's small winning margin, but in the Attorney General contest. My guess is that a lot of these folks are the same ones who have already declared that the Republican Party is “dead.” Well, my advise to them is this: wake up and smell the coffee...if nothing else, last night's results prove that the Republican Party is far from “dead” despite your most fervent wishes that they were. This type of rhetoric spawns one of the most deadly things in politics: complacency.
When a Republican as flawed as Ken Cuccinelli can come just three percentage points from winning the governorship in the “purple” state of Virginia, the Republican Party has a lot of ammunition under its belt.
As far as Virginia Democrats, here's a thought for four years from now: Do you think it might be possible, in 2017, for you to nominate a candidate who is actually liked by Democrats, for whom people might want to enthusiastically get out and support, rather than a milquetoast candidate who has to rely on money and a crazy opponent to stimulate their turnout? (This last request applies to Democrats everywhere, including my home state of New York, where people like New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Mayor-Elect Bill DiBlasio prove, for once and for all, that you don't have to have milquetoast, middle-of-the road, “moderate” Democrats to win statewide elections but, on the contrary, it helps to have people who inspire and motivate (and this is particularly true in states and areas with Democratic enrollment advantages.))
In the case of Virginia, it seems that Democrats looked around for the most uninspiring, milquetoast candidate four years ago and again this year. Four years ago it was a disaster, leading to one of the worst governors in Virginia history. And this year, Democrats won...despite their candidate, not because of him.
(These are my heartfelt thoughts. Flame away...if you must.)