Why Republicans Are Losing the Virginia Governor's Race

Right-wing candidate Ken Cuccinelli stakes it all on a last-ditch push with his buddy Rick Santorum

Ken Cuccinelli, Rick Santorum
Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images; NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor of Virginia, and his sidekick Rick Santorum.
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For many Republican politicians, the chaos and bad blood that resulted from the recent Tea Party government shutdown will be a long-forgotten memory by the next time their constituents go to the ballot box. But for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, judgment day is just two weeks away. To overcome the public relations disaster of his party's recent hostile takeover of the federal branch – as well as his own lagging polling – the state's attorney general and wannabe-governor is going to have to bring out some big guns in the final days of the campaign. His secret weapon? Santorum.

Yes, with a nearly double-digit deficit and a 25-point gender gap, Team Cuccinelli has decided the best way to close in on Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe is to have former Pennsylvania senator, failed presidential candidate and rabid "traditional family values" stalwart Rick Santorum ride into town for a get-out-the-vote crusade. Santorum is joining Christian conservative luminaries like the Duggars – the famous Quiverfull family and reality television stars, who also enjoy discussing the evils of birth control and comparing abortion to the Nazi Holocaust.

See Who Made Our List of the Shutdown Showdown's Winners and Losers

The addition of Santorum's supporters as a door-knocking "strikeforce" for Cuccinelli makes a great deal of sense. After all, Santorum believes gay marriage would lead to "man on dog" sex, and Cuccinelli keeps urging the courts to make consensual oral and anal sex illegal. It's a totally platonic same-sex match made in heaven.

It's also completely the wrong way to play the last weeks of an already faltering campaign, especially after the GOP disaster that was the recent government shutdown and attempt to defund Obamacare.  Since the shutdown, Democrat Cory Booker won a special election for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey by a comfortable margin, and a Florida State House seat that had been in Republican control for decades flipped Democrat in what local pundits declared was a backlash to the battle over Obamacare.

Other politicians have reacted to the shift in public perception by doing a little shifting of their own. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, who is also up for election in two weeks, decided not to stand in the way of his state's Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage – a move that some see as the beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign. It could be, but it's just as likely to be an appeal for moderate New Jersey voters this November 5th , too.

Instead of following the example of Christie or learning from the upset in Florida, Cuccinelli appears determined to double down on the same far right, Christian conservative extremism that put the country into financial jeopardy just a week ago.  He stomped with Tea Party superstar Sen. Ted Cruz while Congress was still in a deadlock, and appeared with Fox News commentator and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who commended Cuccinelli for his leadership in suing to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional.

In fact, the Cuccinelli campaign has moved so far to the right at this point that the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a mostly reliable Republican endorsement machine prior to election day, threw up its hands and refused to endorse any candidate in the race at all.  Their reason? Cucinelli's extreme stance on social issues makes him unelectable.

"On social issues such as abortion and homosexual rights, Cuccinelli not only takes stands we find objectionable but pursues his divisive agenda with a stridency that was unbecoming in an attorney general and would be unbecoming in a governor," wrote the editorial board, which then berated the attorney general over his pursuit of "personhood" policies that would ban all abortion and endanger some forms of birth control, as well as his quest to block efforts to bring marriage equality to the state.

While the newest additions to the campaign trail are unlikely to win over any moderate Virginia voters – and they definitely won't eliminate Cuccinelli's massive deficit among women – the GOP candidate is likely hoping that bringing in the best and brightest of the Tea Party will convince his party's most extreme fringe to show up at the polls in droves.  It's a risky gamble, even more so after the massive disaster that was the government shutdown.

If Cuccinelli's strategy does work, however, expect this to be the first battle of the 2014 culture wars. And be sure to stock up on birth control while you can still get it.