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Virginia’s off-year races are commonly seen as a barometer of the national electorate’s mood. With two polarizing candidates at the top of the Democratic and Republican tickets, commonwealth voters have already been subject to a barrage of attack ads and mudslinging. Now the federal government shutdown is adding a new element of unpredictability to the races. We get the latest from the Old Dominion ahead of the election.
- Quentin Kidd Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Government, Christopher Newport University
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In an otherwise slow election year, the nation's political junkies in search of a place where mud is slung still turn their tired eyes to Virginia. The Commonwealth is just one of a handful of states that holds off-year elections for its executive officers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd with the governor unable to serve consecutive four-year terms, there's always something to watch. This year is proving to be no exception with sticky ethical issues, questions about women's rights, and the government shutdown on all on voters' minds.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to tell us how these issues and others are influencing the electorate with less than a month to go before they head to the polls is Quentin Kidd. He is the director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University where he's also a professor of government. Quentin Kidd joins us by phone. Welcome.
MR. QUENTIN KIDDIt's good to be with you.
NNAMDIQuentin, you have moderated a number of events with candidates this season. And you've been talking with voters as well. What do you see is the general tone and tenor of the race, and to what do you attribute it?
KIDDWell, I mean, it's bad. It's really nasty. I mean, you know, voters are very frustrated. They think that both campaigns and both candidates have been more negative than positive by big margins, more negative than positive. And I don't think voters like it. I think they would prefer not to have this kind of a campaign. But this is the kind of a campaign they have. And I think they're going to be happy in four weeks when it's over with.
KIDDBut I don't think either -- you know, whoever wins, I don't think whoever goes into the executive mansion in January is going to go in with, you know, the kind of public approval that a Virginia governor normally goes into office with. I think either one of these guys, Terry McAuliffe or Ken Cuccinelli, is going to go into office with mud on his suit because it's been such a negative campaign. And it's really become -- it's really a personally negative campaign.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. If you're a Virginia voter, tell us what issues are front and center for you ahead of this election, 800-433-8850. Or you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Quentin Kidd, about a month ago, the big question was whether the investigation into current Gov. Bob McDonnell would be the story that shaped the outcome of this race. As that investigation seemingly takes a backseat, what are you hearing from voters about the effect of the scandal more broadly?
KIDDWell, I think there are a couple of really important back stories to this election cycle. And I think that scandal is one of the most important back stories. And here's why. In December when both of these candidates started running for governor really intensely, the conventional thinking amongst anyone who paid attention was that Ken Cuccinelli was ideologically conservative, but he was a straight shooter personally.
KIDDHis ethical standards were pure. Nobody could question him on his, you know, personal motivations, his personal ethics, and that the Cuccinelli campaign was going to go after McAuliffe on those very issues, his personal ethics, his business deals and that sort of stuff. And somewhere along the way in the spring, early summer, the tables got flipped on the Cuccinelli campaign by that scandal in the governor's office because it came out that Ken Cuccinelli had taken $16,000 from Jonnie Williams also, the CEO of Star Scientific who had given Gov. McDonnell, his family all this money.
KIDDAnd it completely turned the narrative around. And suddenly everybody was talking about Ken Cuccinelli's personal ethics. And I think that really destabilized his campaign, and they've never recovered from it.
NNAMDIThere's also been some talk about Terry McAuliffe's ethics, but that doesn't seem to have had as much staying power as the stories having to do with ethics surrounding the governor and the Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli. But there's a story in today's edition of The Washington Post citing Terry McAuliffe among investors in what you can only consider a weird Rhode Island insurance scam that preyed on dying people.
NNAMDIOf course, he apparently had a lot of company with the real estate person who pulled off that scam because there was a Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, a Roman Catholic monsignor, a former Cranston, R.I. police chief, and a bookmaker, all apparently who were a part of this. But is this likely to have any sticking power in this governor's race?
KIDDI don't think so. I mean, the way you describe that, Kojo, it could be a sitcom. I mean, it could be, you know...
NNAMDIThat's why I said weird.
KIDDIt's really strange, the characters are. The odd thing is the Associated Press has actually withdrawn that story, retracted it because...
NNAMDIYes, I saw that.
KIDD...they actually can't confirm that, you know, that it wasn't Terry McAuliffe involved in it. And I think that's really part of what's going on. I've started to call him Teflon Terry because anything that comes out is either -- he's either so tangentially related to whatever the scandal is or whatever the controversy is...
KIDD...or it's come out that he's really not related to it, that I don't think anything's been able to stick.
NNAMDIAnd they're not sure -- they're not sure he is the TM in that story. It could have been the monsignor, I don't know, for it to be...
KIDDThat's right. That's right. So the Associated Press assumed that TM was Terry McAuliffe, and they've discovered that their assumption was wrong. And so they've retracted that story. And so what was going to be a pretty big issue for him has turned out, I think, for it to be a positive for him. He can say, look, people keep trying to find things on me, and there's nothing.
NNAMDILooking beyond the election, what does that concern over ethics, that was so evident in the poll you just conducted, mean for the next statewide leaders as they go into their terms in the next General Assembly session? What does this mean for what's known as the Virginia Way?
KIDDWell, it suggests to me that the Virginia Way has gone the way of history. You know, when we ask voters whether they thought -- likely voters whether they thought politicians were more or less ethical than they used to be, 64 percent of likely voters in Virginia say that politicians are less ethical than they used to be.
KIDDSeventy percent say they think politicians are out for partisan advantage over public good. This is not the Virginia Way that, you know, we've always read about and we've always heard people talk about. And I think a level of partisan bickering has found its way to Virginia politics that we haven't seen in the Commonwealth. I don't know if we've seen it forever. And I think it's going to change the character of politics and the character of governing in the Commonwealth going forward, probably in a bad way, not in a good way.
NNAMDILater in this broadcast, Sandra Boynton goes country. She joins us to look out for "Frog Trouble." Right now we're talking with Quentin Kidd. He is the director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University where he's also a professor of government. We're discussing the upcoming Virginia elections and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send us email to email@example.com. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'd like to go to Kara in Leesburg, Va. Kara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KARAHi, Kojo. I just I was listening and very surprised to find out that this is a negative campaign. And I don't live under a rock somewhere. But we don't have cable TV anymore, and I think our family is part of a growing group that is consuming media really differently. I listened to the debates that you sponsored, made my decision -- it was kind of made already before then. And I have not heard a thing, and I love it.
NNAMDIYou -- when you say you've not heard a thing, you mean you've not heard a negative thing?
KARANo. Because we listen to WAMU, so no commercials there. And we don't watch television except for streaming anymore.
KARAAnd I wonder if the campaigns are really realizing I got a lot of Facebook ads for the presidential campaign, but I haven't gotten anything on my Facebook regarding the governor's election either.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Quentin Kidd, to that?
KIDDWell, I think she's a rare person who's been able to avoid -- I mean, you know, it's -- there's mud is flying everywhere, so if you still have clean clothes on, then you're a rare person. It's been a pretty negative campaign. But I think...
KARAOh, no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be disagreeing with you that it was a negative campaign. I just wanted to make the point that they're not getting all of the voters with the ads that they're targeting. And I think we will be looking at a way of campaigning shortly where television ads are not the only or best way to advertise.
NNAMDINot -- oh, what do you think about that, Quentin Kidd?
KIDDI think -- well, I think that's right. I mean, and I think the point that I'm -- that the caller's not listening to cable, not watching cable TV and only watching TV streaming is probably a really important one. It's probably the case that a lot of the negative campaigning has happened over the airwaves. Both of these sides have spent millions and millions of dollars. Outside groups have spent millions of dollars on ads. And so that may be how to avoid it, is simply to not watch TV.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Kara. The big story now looming over this race is the government shutdown. Virginia is home to lots of federal employees, contractors, veterans. You've got a survey coming out next week specifically zeroing on that issue. But some polls already show it's having an effect. Where do you think it's coming from and how is it playing out at this point?
KIDDWell, we have yet -- this has been a heavily-polled race generally. But we've had four surveys out this week, including ours, that all went into the field after the shutdown happened. And all of them showing that Ken Cuccinelli's losing to Terry McAuliffe by even larger numbers than he had been, you know, 7, 8, 9 percentage points. I think the shutdown is weighing Cuccinelli down in this way.
KIDDThere's a larger narrative in the campaign that has made the case that Cuccinelli is ideologically aligned with the Tea Party side of the Republican Party. And the shutdown crystallizes the results or the effects of that, I think, in the minds of a lot of Virginia voters, especially in the minds of people who were furloughed, or knows somebody who's furloughed. And I think it's weighed him down.
KIDDIt didn't help him that Ted Cruz came to Richmond on Saturday and praised him and spent a lot of time talking about how good of a candidate Ken Cuccinelli was. And I think if the Cuccinelli campaign had their way, Ted Cruz would have just stayed out of Virginia until after this election. And I think Cruz's presence crystallized even further the idea that Ken Cuccinelli is associated in some way with this shutdown, and it's not helping him.
NNAMDIAnd Ken -- Ted Cruz heaped a lot of praise on the Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, but somehow or the other the attorney general avoided being photographed with Ted Cruz. How'd he pull that off?
KIDDWell, they briefly talked backstage. But the Cuccinelli campaign made it an effort, made it a point not to -- for them not to be seen in public. And Cuccinelli didn't mention Cruz in his remarks. And I think, you know, they went in and went out different doors, so there was no chance that they would be seen together, photographed together. It was very purposeful. The Cuccinelli campaign didn't want a photograph out there with him with Ted Cruz.
NNAMDIHere is James in Falls Church, Va. James, your turn.
JAMESHi. Thank you for taking my call. I live in Falls Church. And I look at both negative campaigns, and I'm planning voting for Bob Sarvis. And I will leave and tell you guys why. I know somebody personally in the governor's office whose name I will not mention, and I used to work on Capitol Hill. And one of the things I will tell you -- it's just like with the federal shutdown. What's their incentive to negotiate and change? They don't have any.
JAMESThe people who are in control are the voters. Both Democrats and Republicans know you can only go one of two ways. When you force these politicians to look over their shoulder, that they have to either produce or get out, then you're going to start seeing some changes. Please bear in mind these guys are still getting paid. OK? And...
JAMES...all they're worried about is their checks and their reelection.
NNAMDISo you are voting for neither the Democrat or the Republican. Does this have anything to do with the two individuals? Or you're just fed up with the two parties?
JAMESWell, no, it has a lot to do with the individuals. If you do some digging on Cuccinelli, he actually defended outside oil interests in the state of Virginia.
NNAMDIWell, that was the point I wanted to get to Quentin Kidd with. Quentin Kidd, we have two candidates for governor here from the major parties who seem to have a higher unlikeability factor than a likeability factor.
KIDDYeah, and I think it's rebounding to the benefit of Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian. You know, somewhere around 10 percent of self-identified Republican likely voters say they're either going to vote for Sarvis or they're undecided. Some are around 10 percent of self-identified Republicans who say they're business oriented Republicans say they're going to vote to Sarvis or they're undecided.
KIDDSo I think part of what's hurting Ken Cuccinelli right now is part of his Republican coalition is not with him. And they're taking refuge in Robert Sarvis. The real question is, will they vote for Robert Sarvis on election day or will they stay home? The Cuccinelli campaign wants to try to change their minds in the next three-and-a-half, four weeks. But I think it's a tall order for them to do that.
NNAMDIThree top offices in Virginia are held by Republicans but it's not unheard of for members of both parties to lead the Commonwealth together. Might we see a party split this time around?
KIDDI think if we're going to see a party split, it's going to be Democrats win the governorship and the lieutenant governorship and Republicans win the attorney general's race. In that race, Mark Herring and Mark Obenshain are essentially tied. And critically in that race, the female vote is split evenly 45 to 45 in our poll. And what that means is that Mark Obenshain has avoided the backlash of the female vote that has gone heavily against Ken Cuccinelli and heavily against E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
KIDDSo Obenshain has found a way to avoid a lot of the damage at the top of the ticket and actually is in a good position in a close race against Mark Herring.
NNAMDIAnd in the lieutenant governor race, depending on where in Virginia you are, the lieutenant governor candidates are either double digits apart or running virtually neck-a-neck. What should we keep an eye out for in that race as it enters the home stretch?
KIDDI think there's a lot of variability in the lieutenant governor's race. I think that you're going to see a lot of -- I think Democrats are going to press their financial advantage in the closing weeks. Ralph Northam has raised a lot more money than E.W. Jackson has. And I think you're going to see Ralph Northam's campaign running ads on TV, essentially trying to widen the gap between the two of them and solidify that gap going into election day. And I don't know that the Jackson campaign has the financial ability to keep up on the ad campaign -- on the ad war -- air wars as we go into the final weeks.
KIDDNortham is ahead in all areas of the state except where they're both from the Hampton Roads area. They seem to be tied in the Hampton Roads area so there's a little bit of hometown split on them in that region.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of hometown, E.W. Jackson claims Massachusetts as his hometown. He calls Virginia his ancestral home. But there's a report in today's edition of the Richmond Times that says that the claim made by E.W. Jackson that he was once Chaplain for the Boston Red Sox for a period of some five years apparently isn't recorded anyplace, even though the records go back to 1973. Is that likely to have any influence on his campaign at all?
KIDDWell, it's one of these stories that undermines credibility. And depending on how much traction it gets, you know, it could dominate a couple of cycles of discussion that E.W. Jackson really needs to be talking about other things. And so it could be a problem for him. I think a lot of voters -- the real question here is, is there going to be drop off at the top of the ticket when we go down to the lieutenant governor's race? Are people going to go into the polling booth to vote for the governor's race and then not vote for the lieutenant governor's race? I think that's why there's variability.
KIDDIn any kind of controversy that calls into question the ethics of one of the candidates I think is just bad for that candidate. And it's probably not going to help him attract voters.
NNAMDIThere's a notable lack of choice in many of the races farther down the ticket. To what do you attribute the relatively high number of House of Delegates candidates who are running unopposed?
KIDDOne word, gerrymandering. I think in the House of Delegates, in particular in Virginia, we have a gerrymandering, a redistricting problem that everybody recognizes but nobody seems to know how to deal with. There's a movement to try to change the way we redistrict in Virginia. It's -- there's resistance in the House of Delegates, resistance in the state Senate. Both candidates for governor have conceptually endorsed the idea of changing the way we redistrict. But it's a matter of getting to action as opposed to just conceptual support.
KIDDBut the House of Delegates is heavily gerrymandered. And that's the reason we don't have more competitive races down ticket across the entire state.
NNAMDIAnd finally here's Roger in Falls Church, Va. Roger, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROGERYeah, I'm going to echo the sentiments of that previous caller. I'm a furloughed federal employee and I'm inclined to vote for Sarvis. I think one of the things that has not been mentioned so far in this conversation is the way in which Ken Cuccinelli got the nomination. He left Bolling as just plain road kill. And there's -- the lieutenant governor was, I think, Bob McDonnell's first choice.
NNAMDIThere was no primary. There was a convention and...
ROGERThat's right and the real diehards took -- I think Bolling could've won a primary might've even been able to win the election.
ROGERWell, since you also plan on voting for Sarvis, Quentin Kidd, there are three candidates for governor on the ballot. There's a question hanging over the final gubernatorial debate about whether third or Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis is going to be allowed to participate. Based on what you're seeing and what we're hearing now, do you think he'll meet the requirements set forth?
KIDDWell, you know, again, like you said, there's a debate going on. I guess by the rules of the debate that's coming up, he's supposed to be at 10 percent, 9 percent in the poll, something like that, on average. And he's not there. I think that if they don't let him in they're going to create some controversy because he's had a threshold of support where he's got enough people, like the callers who called in, who will speak up and say, you know, we want to support him. We want to hear from him.
KIDDIf he gets into the race -- into the debate, you know, I think it's to the disadvantage of Ken Cuccinelli, not Terry McAuliffe because I think Sarvis' support is largely coming out of Cuccinelli's support -- or potential support. So I'd imagine the Cuccinelli people would rather him not be in there. And I don't expect him to be in there unless the Sarvis people in the Sarvic campaign starts to generate a lot of public noise about wanting to be in there. And I haven't heard that yet.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd, thank you so much for joining us.
KIDDTake care. Glad to be with you.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd is the director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. He's also a professor of government there. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Sandra Boynton. She's gone country. She joins us to look out for frog trouble. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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