“Polls have shown a very close race–just what we would expect in purple state Virginia. Either candidate can win, and everything will depend on turnout,” said Political Science Professor Stephen Farnsworth.
After Democratic victory swept through Virginia in last year’s presidential and senatorial elections, the battle for the Governor’s seat is intense and has made for a highly vicious and attack oriented battle.
According to Farnsworth, this viciousness can stem from trying to draw attention from the voters.
“Gubernatorial elections occur in off-years, and so turnout is lower than in presidential election years,” said Farnsworth. “So the challenge is to get the people who will vote for you if they show up at the polls to actually do so.”
The UMW College Republican Chairman, Maxwell Reinhardt, a junior in the history and secondary education department, is working to mobilize campus Republicans to help counteract the attack ads against Cuccinelli, and the UMW Young Democrats’ President, Benjamin Hermerding, a junior in the political science department, is also working to get his fellow Democrats on campus to spread the word about McAuliffe.
“I think the viciousness and personal attacks are more one-sided. Terry McAuliffe has never been an elected politician; he has no experience in government. McAuliffe is trying to bring out the coalition that Obama formed in 2008 and 2012,” said Reinhardt. “At least from the people I’ve talked to, Democrats are going to go to the polls because they’re extremely opposed to Cuccinelli more than for Terry McAuliffe.”
Hermerding disagreed about the one-sideness of the ads, saying, “When you look at Cuccinelli as a State Senator and Attorney General, he’s been an extremist his whole career, and now all of a sudden he’s drawn back from a lot of that. In any campaign, there’s going to be personal attacks, but if you look at the two sides, the one doing most of the personal attacks is Cuccinelli. If you look at McAuliffe’s most recent advertising, it’s been talking about Cuccinelli’s support of dirty coal and his extremist past, which he’s trying to hide.”
The Cuccinelli campaign made a trip to on the UMW campus this past Spring and visited the College Republicans to begin providing resources and support for the campaign. To Reinhardt, this is a step in the right direction for the Republican Party, as they’ve typically catered to an older subset of voters.
“Last year, I think the Republican Party of Virginia got a big wake up call, that they have to be paying more attention to youth activism,” said Reinhardt.
The College Republicans have a base membership of 40-50 members, according to Reinhardt, but the group plans to begin actively recruiting new members at their first meeting, where Senator Bryce Reeves will be speaking.
The Young Democrats also have a solid base membership on campus, and will use their first meeting to speak about their campaigning efforts.
“The campaigns so far have been very nasty. Both candidates really focus on how bad the other guy is,” said Farnsworth. “The problem with attack-oriented campaigning is that both candidates may end up persuading voters: that the Democratic is too slick and less-than-honest and that the Republican is an extreme religious conservative.”
Before the end of the gubernatorial campaign cycle, the College Republicans plan to host a GOTV weekend, and to be actively involved in lobbying for Cuccinelli to take the Governor’s seat.
“We plan to go to the office, or go out and canvas at least two to three times a week,” Reinhardt said.
The College Democrats have already begun work in the McAuliffe field office in Fredericksburg, according to Hermerding.
“We’re shooting for one phone bank and a canvas every week,” Hermerding said.
While the campaigns for Governor may be very divided, both Reinhardt and Hermerding acknowledged that bipartisanship is still taking place on campus between the College Republicans and Young Democrats.
“I was talking to the President of the Young Democrats and he says he wants both he and I and the members of our clubs to attend a voter registration class, so we can get the vote out to people on campus,” said Reinhardt.
The race is likely to remain close, as both candidates shape their messages and try to appeal to voters in a very quickly changing Virginia.