RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — He'd never admit it publicly, but Republican losses on Tuesday presented definite advantages to Virginia's crusading conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, as he cranks the engine of his 2013 gubernatorial campaign.
You can't have a crusade without a villain, and for Cuccinelli and the conservatives who will decide the GOP gubernatorial nomination, their villain of choice — President Barack Obama — has a new four-year term at the White House.
Not since 1973 has Virginia elected a governor of the same party as the president.
There was no silver lining for Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Cuccinelli's rival for the GOP nomination. Gone is the prospect that he might ascend to the governor's office early and enjoy the advantage of incumbency with Gov. Bob McDonnell's departure for a plum job in a Mitt Romney administration.
As the smoke clears from battleground Virginia and a new political season dawns, who are the other victors, and who are the vanquished?
Vanquished: No loss was as devastating as that of George Allen, who heralded a Republican renaissance with his election as governor 19 years ago yet couldn't win back the Senate seat he fumbled away in 2006 to Democratic newcomer Jim Webb. Allen lost this year's comeback bid to a fellow former governor, Tim Kaine. Kaine stepped down in April 2011 as Obama's handpicked Democratic National Committee chairman to keep the Senate seat in Democratic hands after Webb announced he would not seek re-election. Politics is not a gentleman's game of golf, and one mulligan is all you get.
Victor: Kaine won with unexpected ease despite a savage and unprecedented advertising blitz from murky outside groups allied with but independent from Allen's campaign. New "super PACs" and nonprofit social advocacy organizations that can raise and spend limitless amounts poured more than $52 million into Virginia's Senate race, more than any other Senate contest. Almost two-thirds of it, starting in November 2011, was spent to either attack Kaine or support Allen. Strategists for Kaine marveled that none of it affected polling, which showed the race close to the very end.
Vanquished: Independent outside groups — super PACs, which disclose their donors, and nonprofit advocacy groups, which do not. They saturated cable TV and public airwaves with a stream of vitriol so unrelenting that it became, at best, background noise and lost its impact. By mid-September, voters were already tuning it out, either mentally or by hitting the mute buttons on their remotes. DVR technology allowed many viewers to record programs to watch later, screening out all advertising. Corporations and wealthy individual conservative donors who gave these groups millions can't be happy with their return on investment.
Victor: Shoe-leather politics. The ground game. Callin' and haulin'. Call it what you will, the oldest and most basic form of electioneering was also the most effective. The Democrats' field organization, pioneered in 2008 by former community organizer Obama, prevailed despite the president's middling approval numbers, a sluggish economy and persistent unemployment around 8 percent, and despite being lavishly outspent. Turns out, the difference wasn't the ad on your TV, the robo-call to your phone or the tweet on your laptop. It was the knock at your door.
Vanquished: Tea party groups, Americans for Prosperity and other conservative organizations marked Nov. 6, 2012, on their calendars four years ago. In each subsequent Virginia election since 2008, they helped the GOP gain ground. Tuesday was their day to put up or shut up. They came away empty-handed. But they're not dead by any means. They are Cuccinelli's ardent army, and they've already pivoted to the GOP statewide nomination battles that end with the state party convention eight months from now in Richmond.
Victor AND Vanquished: McDonnell's hopes of being the next attorney general or holding some other cabinet post in Washington died with Romney's defeat. Obama won Virginia for a second election in a row even though McDonnell gave his all campaigning for Romney. In the buzz about the wide-open 2016 presidential field, however, McDonnell finds his name mentioned alongside former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Romney's running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, as GOP prospects.
Victor: Television and radio stations across Virginia that rebounded handsomely from some lean recent years thanks to the tens of millions of dollars spent on ads in a battleground state.
Victor: You. A campaign that cost $6 billion nationally is over, and you, Virginia, survived its full fury and voted in huge numbers. The shrill advertising, the nonstop braying of pundits, all is at an end. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Bob Lewis has covered Virginia government and politics for The Associated Press since 2000.