How to Lose a Purple State

Republican Ken Cuccinelli demonstrates how to lose the Virginia governor's race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

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Cuccinelli's uncompromising conservatism included opposing the $1 billion road-and-rail plan signed into law by McDonnell this year on the grounds that it raised taxes. Stances like that cost him business community support says Davis. "He's been outspent because the business community, as has happened nationally, has walked away," he says.

The coup de grâce came when Cuccinelli's ideological brethren in Congress shut down the federal government, a wrenching disruption given that much of the state's northern economy depends on government workers. If you look at RealClearPolitics's average of polls for the race, McAuliffe starts pulling away from Cuccinelli almost the moment the federal government shuts down. McAuliffe has since hammered Cuccinelli as a Cruz clone. The impossibility of the attorney general's situation was laid bare when asked last week whether he would have voted for the deal which reopened the government, he replied: "I don't know whether I would have voted for it." What else could he say? Cruz and the running-amok party base view the shutdown as a worthwhile fight, while swing voters recoil at it: 69 percent of voters surveyed in the Post poll said the shutdown was important while 82 percent of voters disapproved of it; the Quinnipiac poll found that 77 percent of Virginians think the shutdown harmed the commonwealth.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

And while the effect of the shutdown is magnified in Virginia, similar results are evident nationally: A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week found that 80 percent of Americans disapproved of the shutdown, while the percent of the public holding a positive view of the GOP sunk to a new low of 32 percent.

The utter collapse of the Cruz-Cuccinelli conservatives only stands in contrast to this year's other gubernatorial election, in New Jersey, where GOP Gov. Chris Christie is coasting to an easy re-election. "Christie is one direction for the party; Cuccinelli is another," Davis says. The Cruz-Cuccinelli conservatives have chosen a path of ideological purity – and political losses.

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