In what turned out to be a surprisingly close election after a wide polling gap, Democratic businessman and fundraiser Terry McAuliffe narrowly edged ahead of Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the race to be the next governor of Virginia.
McAuliffe nudged into the lead after votes in several Northern Virginia counties started flowing in, further tipping the state’s balance of power toward the Washington suburbs, and flipping a trend of the governor’s mansion going to the party that does not hold the White House.
McAuliffe is best known for his stint running the Democratic National Committee and as a close political confidant of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Most polls taken in the last week of the campaign had him six or seven percentage points ahead of Cuccinelli. But with the votes counted, McAuliffe less than two points ahead.
Rob Sarvis, a libertarian who polled much stronger than past third-party candidates, pulled in 6.7 percent of the vote.
The race between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli was quite nasty, with McAuliffe scrutinized for his shaky tenure running an electric-car company in Mississippi, and Cuccinelli hit for his ardent social conservatism in an increasingly purple state. As the campaign dragged on, both candidates’ unfavorability ratings with voters ticked upward; a survey released Monday by Public Policy Polling showed that 52 percent of voters held unfavorable views of both men.
As the campaign drew to a close, McAuliffe was tagged with dissatisfaction over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, while Cuccinelli became a surrogate for last month’s government shutdown instigated by his fellow Tea Party types.
Down the ballot, Democrats also picked up the lieutenant governor’s seat, with State Senator Ralph Northam beating the bile-spewing, watermelon-smashing pastor E.W. Jackson.