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Ken Cuccinelli Might Be Doing Better If He Weren't an Extremist in a Changing Virginia

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In recent days, we’ve written about Colorado and California as examples of places where demographic change have posed and continue to pose serious challenges to Republicans in future elections.  Today, Jill Lawrence at National Journal has a similar piece about this year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia, where demography may end up being destiny.

Though both candidates in the race—Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Tea Partier Ken Cuccinelli—may have their flaws, the changing electorate in Virginia currently favors McAuliffe.  As National Journal notes:

When Cuccinelli won a special election to the state Senate in 2002, Northern Virginia was at the start of an explosive decade of growth that transformed its people and politics. The four-county, suburban Washington region accounted for more than half of the state’s growth from 2000 to 2010, as professionals and minorities flooded in. One third of the state now lives in Northern Virginia, and most of the rest live in the Richmond and Norfolk areas.

Diversity, meanwhile, has skyrocketed. The state Hispanic population nearly doubled over the period, and there was a 63 percent increase in mixed-race residents. The politics have evolved as you would expect, culminating in President Obama’s landmark 2008 and 2012 victories in Virginia, powered by the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William.

Such details are hardly insurmountable for, say, a moderate Republican candidate who reaches out to middle-of-the-road and minority voters.  But that definitely doesn’t describe Cuccinelli, who is described in the National Journal piece as “losing white moderates overwhelmingly” because he has “deliberately vacated any claim to the center.”  A number of prominent Republicans have even crossed party lines to endorse McAuliffe—and those are cards that Cuccinelli has “dealt himself,” in the words of Michael McDonald, a voter-turnout specialist at George Mason University.

What are some of the ways in which Cuccinelli has helped dig his own grave?  For one, there’s Cuccinelli’s positions on immigration.  Between 2000 and 2010, Virginia saw a 76% growth in Latino eligible voters.  Yet Cuccinelli—despite his attempts to erase the record on his anti-immigrant hardliner past—shows no indication of being a different guy than the one who compared immigrants to rats and called Steve King “one of my very favorite congressmen.”  That’s no way to attract new voters.

The race isn’t over yet, of course, and anything could still happen.  But the interesting question is whether Virginia has reached a demographic tipping point.  As National Journal concludes, “If a candidate with as many problems as McAuliffe can win, the answer will be emphatically yes.”