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.