Feminist Fix: Women Elected Terry McAuliffe Governor of Virginia

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Terry McAuliffe was elected Governor of Virginia last night in an extremely close race against Republican Ken Cuccinelli. He won by a total margin of about two points.

+ According to Fox News exit polls in the state, McAuliffe had women to thank for his slim victory, and unmarried ones in particular. Women backed McAuliffe overall by a nine-point margin, and unmarried women supported him 67-25 percent. 20% of voters in the poll named abortion as their number-one issue, providing some context for those leads; among those voters, McAuliffe had a 25-point advantage and carried 59% of their votes. These findings echo similar data collected by the Washington Post, which additionally highlights that voters between 18 and 44 broke for McAuliffe in higher numbers, as did voters who make under $30,000 a year. MSNBC found that African-American, Latina, and unmarried women turned out in number paralleling the 2012 election of Barack Obama, pushing McAuliffe ahead with a majority of their support. They stressed the critical mass of women’s votes which pushed him over the edge due to issues like VAWA, reproductive rights, and LGBT rights – crediting the gender gap almost wholly with his slim but ultimate victory:

Geoff Garin, McAuliffe’s pollster, hoped his candidate would gain from women’s rejection of Cuccinelli’s hard-line position on abortion. “Our data was very clear that what people most remembered about Cuccinelli was his abortion position,” said Garin before the votes were in. “That was what was more sticky with voters, especially female voters.”

And from the start, the McAuliffe campaign, along with allies Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, made sure women were repeatedly reminded of that position.

“The whole country is watching to see if the rights of women and girls will be respected, especially over our own bodies and health care,” Hillary Clinton said when she campaigned for McAuliffe in October, adding, “You will not have to worry about that with Terry McAuliffe in the governor’s office.”

Planned Parenthood’s political action groups, both nationally and in Virginia, poured millions of dollars into the race to “Keep Ken Out,” with TV, radio, and Internet presences. The organization’s president, Cecile Richards, argued that “so-called ‘women’s issues’ have flipped a switch for voters,” calling it “the new normal.”

+ The Fix has six theories to explain why McAuliffe’s victory was so narrow, including the passage of time between election night and the government shutdown.

+ One thing is certain: Tuesday night marked “a rebuke to the national GOP.” Robert McCartney of The Washington Post believes McAuliffe’s win signifies a “bluish tinge in purple Virginia,” while his colleagues Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake see the 2013 elections nationwide as proof of a floundering Tea Party:

Winning is an awfully persuasive argument in politics — perhaps the most persuasive argument.

To be clear, there were lots of factors at play Tuesday. Cuccinelli and Young were both outspoken social conservatives, a reality that clearly cost the former and may have cost the latter. Local issues mattered, and so did the effective campaigns against the tea party candidates. So no, not everything that went wrong for tea party candidates was a direct result of voters’ desire to defy the movement.

Still, the overall pattern was not an encouraging one for the tea party. The movement remains a force in the GOP, and in Congress (see Cruz, Ted). But on Tuesday it had some of the wind knocked out of its sails.

+ Though the Tea Party may be here to stay for a bit, others similarly expressed that the GOP has distanced itself very purposefully from the most conservative members of that faction, especially in more recent weeks following the shutdown. The Atlantic parallels Chris Christie’s re-election with McAuliffe’s victory, stating “America loves a blowhard,” especially one who promises to put polarizing, extremist policies aside to govern. McAuliffe himself stressed bipartisanship in his election night speech. (The Washington Post agrees, and called the win proof of a “moderate message prevailing.”) The Daily Beast instead posits that Republicans “stabbed Cuccinelli in the back.”

But Steve Waters, a prominent Republican strategist in Virginia, said Cuccinelli was simply stabbed in the back by his own party. Waters said the narrow loss was the result of fellow Republicans who jumped ship to back McAuliffe or, in the case of Bill Bolling, the state’s GOP lieutenant governor, simply sat on their hands. Bolling’s actions were emblematic of moderate establishment Republicans trying to undermine conservatives in the party, Waters said, comparing the lieutenant governor to the Washington Republicans who didn’t stand by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee in the government shutdown. A conservative lobbyist at the Cuccinelli party shared Waters’s contempt, noting that Bolling didn’t even contest the gubernatorial primary all the way to the convention. “Instead, he took his ball and went home,” the lobbyist said.

The defection of many Republicans, particularly those in the donor class, helped McAuliffe put together a whopping financial advantage.

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