Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat ultra-conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli this Tuesday in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. In the weeks leading up to the election, both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli attracted national attention for being the lowest-approved candidates in Virginia history. The results of this disappointing election prove that the political influence of Tea Party extremism may finally be waning.
Considering Cuccinelli’s involvement in the Tea Party, as well as his long track record of personal gaffes, the results of the election are not surprising. McAuliffe’s multimillion dollar advertising efforts ruthlessly targeted Cuccinelli for his hardline conservative policies on taxation, abortion, and gun control. Cuccinelli went so far to advocate reinstating Virginia’s “crimes against nature” penalty, which includes class 6 felony punishments for sodomy and oral sex. (Class 6 felonies may recieve a fine up to $2500 and up to a year in prision or a prision term of up to 10 years.)
McAuliffe’s mudslinging only added to the political damage incurred by the Tea Party as a result of the government shutdown. McAuliffe’s liberal platform won him majorities in the demographics most affected by the shutdown—women and minorities. Despite Cuccineli’s claims that the election results amounted to a rejection of Obamacare, McAuliffe’s victory proves just the opposite. According to The Atlantic Wire, of the 53 percent of Virginians who oppose Obamacare, 81 percent also supported Cuccinelli. If this election were truly a rejection of Obamacare, Cuccinelli would have garnered enough support to defeat his liberal opponent.
Cuccinelli’s loss ought to serve as a wake-up call for the Republican Party. The Virginia electorate has changed notably since Republican Bob McDonnell was elected governor of Virginia in 2009. According to The Washington Post, Black and Hispanic voters now make up 24 percent of the electorate, which is over a 4 percentage point increase from 2009, when Blacks made up 16 percent of the electorate. Hispanic votes were too few to be included in the poll.
The electorate is also getting younger. Voters under the age of 44 comprised 36 percent of the electorate, a 4 percent increase from 2009.
This generation of voters has shown that the zealot antics of the right-wing politicians do not win state elections, nor will they be advantageous in the 2016 presidential election. The Republican Party has arrived at a turning point. Republicans need to decide whether they will be a major party capable of winning elections, or a conservative niche party without a hope of competing on the national stage. This election has shown that in order to remain relevant, Republicans must isolate their policy and public image from Tea Party extremists like Cuccinelli.