2013 big stories: Va. governor’s race


by Janet Roach, 13News Now


Posted on December 24, 2013 at 7:23 PM

RICHMOND-Virginians elected a new governor in 2013. 

Attorney General and Tea Party darling Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chair and Clinton fundraiser squared off in a race that was ugly almost from the beginning.

Since 1977, no governor-elect winner had been in the same party as the president.   McAuliffe wanted to change that.

The off-year election made it one of biggest attractions in the nation. Jesse Richmond, associate professor in ODU's Department of Political Science and Geography, said the race was serving as a barometer for the upcoming congressional races.

"This is the contest to see which party has momentum heading into 2014 and the congressional midterm elections," he said.

The biggest punches were thrown over the airwaves in the onslaught of campaign ads. Cuccinelli portrayed McAuliffe as a business tycoon who profited off the backs of the common man. One ad highlighted the Green Tech Automotive investigation. McAuliffe co-founded Green Tech but stepped down as CEO in 2012. In the thick of the campaign, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced an investigation into GreenTech over its solicitation of foreign investors.

McAuliffe capitalized on deeply conservative positions Cuccinelli took on social issues in a string of ads specifically targeting women. One featured Norfolk OB-GYN Dr. Holly Puritz, who criticized Cuccinelli's view on abortion. McAuliffe's $15 million fundraising advantage kept the ads on the airwaves.

On the campaign trail, Cuccinelli avoided social issues and tried to focus on what he said Virginians were concerned about: jobs, taxes and lowering spending.

In Virginia Beach, that message missed a big mark--the Republican mayor. In a blow to the Cuccinelli campaign, Will Sessoms endorsed McAuliffe. That made it all the more important for Cuccinelli to bring out the big guns--campaigning with Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Not to be outdone, McAuliffe lured his friend and supporter Bill Clinton. The former president made several campaign stops in Virginia, including at the Half Moone Cruise Terminal in Norfolk. McAuliffe also hit the campaign trail with President Obama in Northern Virginia.

There was a third candidate in the race.  Excitement grew for Libertarian Robert Sarvis.  Polls consistently showed the Annandale attorney and Harvard graduate at seven to ten percent.

With McAuliffe leading the polls by double digits, Cuccinelli's last-minute strategy was to link McAuliffe to the failing Affordable Care Act Website.  Some political observers say the move helped produce a nail-biter on election night with McAuliffe eking out a victory by just under three percentage points - 48 to 46. Sarvis finished with six percent of the vote.