Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli held Democrat Terry McAuliffe's victory in the Virginia governor's race to single-digit margins on Tuesday because he successfully tied the former Democratic National Committee chairman to Obamacare, political analysts told Newsmax.
"Ken Cuccinelli connected on the Obamacare issue — and that was a theme that he used in the closing days and hours of the campaign, and it certainly paid off," veteran pollster John Zogby said. "He also did better among Republicans than we saw him doing.
"I will be the first to admit that it was a lot closer than I expected," he said.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Newsmax: "McAuliffe was expected to win. This was closer than expected.
"It was an off-year race," he added. "It drew a smaller turnout — and Republicans were drawn out by the closing emphasis on Obamacare that Cuccinelli engineered. That helped to balance the burden he had earlier in the campaign being caused by the government shutdown."
With 98 percent of the vote counted
, reported McAuliffe with 48 percent, compared with 45 percent for Cuccinelli. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis garnered 7 percent of the vote.
McAuliffe, 56, whose campaign was supported by former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, succeeds Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is barred from seeking a second four-year term.
Cuccinelli, 45, led in most of the early counting — at one point being ahead of McAuliffe by as many as 40,000 votes, according to the CNN data. His strength primarily came from the central and southern parts of the state.
"I was surprised that Cuccinelli was as competitive in the rest of the state as he ended up being," Zogby told Newsmax. "We didn't think there would be a significant turnout in the western part of the state."
He added that his research showed that Cuccinelli "wasn't connecting with all segments of Republican voters."
McAuliffe's lead started picking up shortly before 9:40 p.m. on Tuesday, as the votes from the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington were counted.
"That's where Virginia's liberals and a substantial number of moderates live," Zogby added. "Those areas also are heavily populated."
Fox News projected a McAuliffe victory not long before CNN first reported that he had pulled ahead of Cuccinelli in their bitter gubernatorial race.
Virginia is seen as a bellwether swing state ahead of mid-term congressional elections next year and the 2016 presidential election.
Record amounts of outside money flowed into the campaign — as McAuliffe heavily outspent Cuccinelli, and the Clintons and other national Democratic figures sought to make the vote a referendum on the Republicans' tea party wing.
Cuccinelli focused on attacking Obamacare, which is off to a stumbling start at best.
Obamacare has been riddled with problems since the individual mandate took effect on Oct. 1.
The main website, Healthcare.gov, which covers 39 states that do not have their own healthcare exchanges, was shut down its first weekend to address technology problems. Americans continued to report persistent problems with trying to gain access to and purchase insurance through the site.
In addition, most Obamacare enrollee
s have been people over 50, with pre-existing conditions — a far cry from the younger, healthier individuals the White House had been hoping to attract to keep insurance costs down.
Obamacare's travails proved to be a boon to Cuccinelli in the latter days of the campaign, which took a great hit from the 16-day federal government shutdown last month, Sabato told Newsmax.
"It wasn't until that website failed that people were refocused on it," he said. "The website failure had a lot to do with this.
"Frankly, had there not been a government shutdown, it would have been obvious to people sooner that the website was a disaster," he added. "The government shutdown took a lot of attention away from the failures of Obamacare."
The Clintons stumped for McAuliffe, who had run both their campaigns. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also campaigned for him days before the vote.
Cuccinelli received support from such Republicans as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.
"We knew from our polling that McAuliffe was a flawed candidate," Zogby said. "It appears that, despite Cuccinelli's problems and flaws, the president coming in and campaigning for McAuliffe in the closing days did not help."
Cuccinelli, a strong opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, trailed McAuliffe in opinion polls heading into the election — even those conducted by Zogby for Newsmax — especially among women and independent voters.
McAuliffe tied Cuccinelli to the government shutdown, blamed by most Americans on Republicans and especially those allied with the tea party. Virginia was hit hard by the shutdown since it relies more than most states on federal paychecks and contracts.
Cuccinelli also was hurt by a scandal involving McDonnell, who is under investigation for taking gifts from a businessman. Cuccinelli apologized in September for taking gifts from the same executive.
McAuliffe raised about $34 million to Cuccinelli's $20 million, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks political money in the state.
In addition, the Democrat outspent Cuccinelli 10-1 on television advertising in the last few weeks of the campaign, the Access Project said.
Underscoring the national interest in the race, about 70 percent of the money raised came from outside Virginia. That is far the highest percentage for any U.S. gubernatorial race in history, according to the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics, in Helena, Mont.
Looking ahead, however, Zogby said that Cuccinell's Obamcare strategy might prove effective for Republicans in next year's congressional campaigns.
"It does look like linking the president to McAuliffe and making this a referendum on Obamacare is something that could be troubling for Democrats going into 2014.
"But the GOP still has issues internally to resolve," he added. "It needs to be sure that it can unify all of its conservative elements, but it still has a problem with moderate voters."
For his part, Sabato said that the future of the GOP in Virginia depended on whether Republican Mark Obenshain beats Democrat Mark Herring in the attorney general's race.
Past midnight on Wednesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch
reported the race in a virtual dead heat, with Obenshain leading by 1,337 votes after 99 percent of the vote being counted.
"If Obenshain wins, he will almost certainly be the Republican candidate for governor in 2017," Sabato told Newsmax. "If they don’t get him in, they're in trouble. They just don't have a logical candidate."
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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