Two months ago Tim Carney remarked that “The McAuliffe-Cuccinelli race might be the clearest contrast we’ve seen of a corporatist Democrat running against a free-market populist.” Polling this week shows Cuccinelli leading by a striking ten percent among likely voters. So is this the vindication of free-market populism?
I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure. Terry McAuliffe is pretty much the definition of a corporatist Democrat, but even until last year, Virginia voters might have been puzzled by the idea that Ken Cuccinelli represents free-market populism. I wrote back in February:
Even if he was in the right, to many observers of Virginia politics Ken Cuccinelli’s lawsuit against Obamacare had the whiff of a publicity stunt. It wasn’t so much that his case was spurious (a district court upheld its legitimacy, though he wasn’t able to take his case to the Supreme Court), but that it was one more link in a chain of quixotic, politically-charged crusades.
Most of those initiatives had nothing to do with economics; the absurd request for 15 years worth of correspondence from UVA, the advisory that state agencies had to pare down their anti-discrimination statutes to remove protections for sexual minorities, and so on. He was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Marshall-Newman Marriage Amendment, one of the strongest statements foreclosing gay marriage in any state constitution. He’d always looked, to me at least, far more like a culture warrior than a free-marketeer.
Since then, Cuccinelli has been beefing up his laissez-faire credentials, with significant passages in his latest book, The Last Line of Defense, devoted to attacking the EPA’s regulatory regime, and of course the Obamacare lawsuit counts too. Beltway libertarians also seem to have an affinity for Cuccinelli, which I’ve always thought strange, though it’s perhaps explained by the AG’s solid support for Tea Party, libertarian-ish candidates. Today Cuccinelli unveiled a pledge to lower state income taxes. I hope the trend continues.
But there are two factors that might caution against reading the Virginia governor’s race as a referendum on free-market populism; the unique terribleness of Terry McAuliffe, and a gubernatorial electorate heavily biased in favor of Republicans. Jamelle Bouie’s point about McAuliffe’s tepid support among black voters—less than Creigh Deeds!—is especially significant since a substantial portion, some have even suggested a majority, of Democratic voters in Virginia are African American.