By James M. Perry
Political reporters from around the country will flock to Virginia this year, and for good reason. With Chris Christie a shoo-in for re-election as governor of New Jersey, the governor's race in Virginia is where the action is.
It should be interesting. The Republicans, defying logic and the demographic facts of life in Virginia, are fielding two Tea Party favorites -- Ken Cuccinelli, the fire-eating attorney general, for governor, and E.W. Jackson, a fire-breathing black preacher, for lieutenant governor. No one seems to be paying much attention to the third member of the ticket (see above), Mark D. Obenshain, the candidate to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general, even though he is the son of the man who created the modern Republican party in Virginia.
"This is the most conservative Republican ticket in the history of Virginia," Larry Sabato, the quotable political scientist from the University of Virginia, told the New York Times's Tom Edsall.
Jackson, for the moment, is adding a little spark to the campaign. Yoga -- meditation generally -- he once said, opens its practitioners to Satan. Planned Parenthood, he argued, has killed more black babies than the Ku Klux Klan. Gays, he believes, are "perverted" and "sick."
Jackson wasn't expected to win the nomination but he stampeded Tea Party delegates to the state convention in May with what one observer called a "thunderous" speech. He is, it would seem, a diversion and an embarrassment to the rest of the ticket. The focus will soon shift to Cuccinelli.
Virginia Democrats in recent years elected two shrewd politicians as governor -- Mark Warner first and then Tim Kaine. Both are now U.S. senators. Their candidate for governor this year is a wheeler-dealer from the Clinton years, Terry McAuliffe, a man who has raised prodigious amounts of money for the party. Republicans say he's a carpetbagger. Hardly anyone believes he fits Virginia the way both Warner and Kaine do.
The outgoing governor (governors in Virginia -- it's a disgrace -- can't succeed themselves), Republican Robert F. McDonnell, surprised almost everyone by finally pushing through desperately needed legislation to fix the state's creaky transportation network. Then, in a move hailed by liberals, he restored voting rights to ex-convicts, most of whom will be voting Democratic. But all those good works have been overshadowed by stories about his "creepy" relationship with a Virginia businessman, Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., that included, according to the Washington Post, "rides on Williams's corporate jet, personal gifts to the first family, and efforts by the governor and his wife to promote the company."
Williams also came up with $15,000 to cater the reception at the McDonnell daughter's wedding (above right).
McDonnell is conservative; Cuccinelli is hard-right conservative; he believes, with Barry Goldwater, that moderation is rarely a virtue. He opposes abortion, believes Obamacare is unconstitutional, takes a hard line on immigration and gay rights, and doubts greenhouse gases hurt anyone.
Virginia is slowly turning blue, with sprawling growth in the Washington suburbs and in and around Richmond and Norfolk. McAuliffe, with a scandal in the governor's mansion, scads of cash and all those technological experts he's hired who worked such wonders for Obama, should win this election easily. But this is an off-year election, with low turnout, and McAuliffe lacks the downhome skills of Warner and Kaine.
So pundits are preparing to call it a toss-up, just the way they did not so long ago in the Obama-Romney race.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.