Why Obamacare Mattered, but Wasn’t Decisive, in Va. Governor’s Race

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The day after Terry McAuliffe's (D) closer-than-expected gubernatorial victory in Virginia, Republicans are arguing that Ken Cuccinelli's (R) campaign to emphasize President Barack Obama's health-care law narrowed the race.

And, they add, that should frighten Democrats heading into the 2014 midterms.

The top spokesman at the National Republican Senatorial Committee tweeted, "Election day takeaway? Obamacare a disaster for Democrats in '14."

And in his remarks last night, Cuccinelli said, "Despite being outspent by an unprecedented $15 million, this race came down to the wire because of Obamacare."

Did Obamacare play a role in last night's contest? Probably. Was it a decisive one? Nope.
First, let's look at the data from the exit polls:

  • Forty-six percent of Virginia voters said they supported the law, and McAuliffe won those voters by an 88 percent-to-6 percent clip.
  • By comparison, 53 percent said they opposed the law, and Cuccinelli won them, 81 percent to 11 percent. (That suggests that some of of the opposition came from Democrats.)
  • While just 46 percent said they supported the health law, that percentage was higher than those who believe abortion shouldn't be legal in all or most cases (34 percent), as well as those who support for the Tea Party (28 percent).
  • And a quarter of Virginia voters said that health care was the ONE issue that mattered the most to them, and Cuccinelli only narrowly won those voters, 49 percent to 45 percent.

Bottom line from these statistics: The health-care law isn't popular, but that unpopularity didn't ultimately damage McAuliffe.

What's more likely is that the problems with the president's health-care site rollout -- and Cuccinelli emphasizing it over the last couple of weeks -- fired up the GOP base. And that's a potential lesson for Republicans (and problem for Democrats) heading into next year's midterm elections, if the website problems aren't fixed and if not enough young, healthy people sign up.

That's especially true, considering Democrats will be playing in mostly Republican territory in trying to take back the House and will be playing mostly defense in red states to retain control of the Senate.

Public polling had shown Cuccinelli getting about 80 percent of Republicans. But according to the exit polls last night Cuccinelli won 92 percent of Republicans. Democrats backed McAuliffe by an almost equal 95 percent-to-2 percent clip.

That also helps explain why turnout was up – 42 percent voted, up from 2009. And more than two million votes were cast, the most in Virginia history for a governor's race. Democrats hit their targets; Republicans got more than they thought they would two weeks ago after the shutdown.

As we wrote earlier this week, Cuccinelli making his campaign a referendum on the health-care law was a Hail Mary pass in the race's final stages.

As it turns out, Team Cuccinelli might have caught the Hail Mary.

The problem: They caught it at the 10-yard line, not in the end zone -- with no time on the clock.

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