Terry McAuliffe Beats Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia Governor's Race

Democrats regain governor's mansion in the commonwealth.

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, left, shakes hands with supporters after voting Tuesday in McLean, Va.
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In Virginia's gubernatorial race to the bottom, it was Democrat Terry McAuliffe who came out on top.

The former DNC chair eked out a victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's sitting attorney general, winning with a lower percentage than polling near Election Day suggested, according to preliminary tallies in the lackluster race pitting two unfavorable candidates against each other in an off-year election.

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McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and prolific fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton, ran on a platform of expanding Medicaid in Virginia through President Barack Obama's controversial health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, and demonizing Cuccinelli on social issues.

McAuliffe, who raised $34 million to Cuccinelli's $18 million, pounded voters with advertisements about Cuccinelli's pro-life stance, turning women voters away from the conservative. One poll released Monday showed McAuliffe winning 50 percent of the vote among women compared to Cuccinelli's 36 percent. According to exit polls, McAuliffe reached similar margins among voters on Election Day, CNN reported.

 

Cuccinelli was also hurt by Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis, who tallied enough of a percentage of the vote to be a factor, largely drawing from conservative voters. This was despite a Monday night Cuccinelli rally alongside libertarian hero, former Texas congressman Ron Paul in an attempt to mitigate such a result.

[READ: McAuliffe Widens Lead, Buoyed by Women Voters]

Cuccinelli's failure juxtaposed with a victory by the more mainstream Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., is expected to send ripples throughout the national Republican Party, which is struggling internally with a fight between purists and moderates. In recent years, Virginia has elected a governor of the opposite party of the president of the United States and given McAuliffe's lack of personal appeal, Cuccinelli was expected to have a slight edge at the onset of the race.

Cuccinelli might have hoped for help courting middle-of-the-road voters from current Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, popular in the purple state. But McDonnell's brand was poisoned thanks to a pervasive gift-accepting scandal that also tainted Cuccinelli's own bid and handicapped his ability to paint McAuliffe as unethical, despite some questionable business connections.

 

Instead, Cuccinelli raced to the right to play to conservative, grassroots voters in an attempt to inspire greater turnout among base voters than McAuliffe. He touted his role as the first attorney general to file a lawsuit against Obamacare, argued against expanding Medicaid and promising to protect Virginians from federal overreach. Though his voters were enthusiastic, in the end there were not enough.

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McAuliffe also benefited from a 16-day federal government shutdown, largely blamed by voters on conservative Republicans. The issue was especially salient among voters in populous northern Virginia, many of whom are or know federal workers affected by the shutdown.

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