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Richard Klass Headshot

The Price of Political Purity

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It is clear from the current debate over Obamacare and the debt ceiling that a small number of Republican members of Congress, perhaps 50 in the House and five in the Senate, put ideological purity over their constitutional obligation to govern. There is a political price to be paid for this choice.

True, the price is not obvious in House elections. Political gerrymandering has allowed the "Tea Party" to elect enough members to give Majority Leader John Boehner his position despite minority Democratic candidates garnering some one and a quarter million more votes in the 2012 elections than their GOP opponents. But, as he has learned to his dismay, leadership does not result in followership when zealots are in the fold.

But on a broader Senate electoral battleground, radical candidates have cost the GOP at least five Senate seats. Harry Reid (NV) in 2010 and Claire McCaskill (MO) in 2012 were doomed until the GOP chose literally incredible candidates. The primary defeat of Dick Lugar (IN) by an extreme candidate handed the seat to the Democrats as in 2012 did the primary defeat of Mike Castle (R) in DE in 2010. A similar actions likely cost the GOP the CO seat in 2010.

Now we have a chance to see if such radical GOP candidates can also lose governorships in very purple swing states. Consider this pattern in Virginia (VA) governor's races that occur the year after the presidential election:

In 1976 Jimmy Carter (D) was elected president and in 1977 John Dallon (R) was elected VA governor. In 1980 Ronald Reagan (R) was elected president. In1981 Charles Robb (D) was elected VA governor. In 1984 Reagan was reelected and in 1985 Gerald Balles (D) was elected VA governor. In 1988 George H.W. Bush (R) was elected president and in 1989 Douglas Wilder (D) was elected VA governor. In 1992 Bill Clinton (D) was elected president and in1993 George Allen (R) was elected VA governor. In 1996 Clinton was reelected and in 1997 Jim Gilmore (R) was elected VA governor. In 2000 George W. Bush (R) was elected president and in 2001 Mark Warner (D) was elected VA governor. In 2004 Bush was reelected and in 2009 Tim Kaine (D) was elected VA governor. In 2008 Barack Obama (D) was elected president and in 2009 Bob McDonnell (R) was elected VA governor. In 2012 Obama was reelected and the pattern would indicate a GOP win in the November 5, 2013 VA election.

But the voters of the Commonwealth of Virginia may be unwilling to continue this pattern for the current GOP candidate. As the polls stand today, six weeks before the 2013 election, the streak appears ready to end. The GOP has chosen a very conservative Ken Cuccinelli II, the current Attorney General, as their candidate. (And an even more radical lieutenant governor candidate.) Cuccinelli is best known for supporting trans-vaginal probes, opposing gay rights and resisting Medicaid expansion. His opponent, former Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAulliffe has never held elected office and may not be the ideal candidate but currently leads by five to eight points in the polls with a strong lead among women voters.

If McAulliffe wins, breaking the pattern it will have less to do with his appeal than Cuccinelli's rejection by the voters for his extreme, no compromise ideologically purity. One would think the GOP would draw a lesson from this. One would probably be mistaken.