Analysis: The Defection 

No tea parties on Main Street – another big Republican name embraces gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

click to enlarge Terry McAuliffe - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Terry McAuliffe

Political wonks should not have been surprised when long-time Republican operative Boyd Marcus announced he was endorsing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe.

Marcus’s move this week is just another in a long string of defections of Main Street Republicans away from Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, the GOP’s nominee for governor.

Among other prominent defectors are Bruce L. Thompson, head of Virginia Beach’s Gold Key/PHR Hotels and Resorts; R. Ted Weschler, a Berkshire Hathaway investment manager; and Paul Tudor Jones II, a hedge fund manager and University of Virginia alumnus who is the donor of a huge Charlottesville arena.

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, says the split shows the state and national break between the Chamber of Commerce Republicans versus the “social issue-slash-tea party” ones. He also says that pro-business GOPers might be jilting Cuccinelli as a way to “deal a defeat to the ticket” and hand “the tea party a major blow.”

Marcus, a veteran GOP adviser, worked for former Gov. Jim Gilmore, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and U.S. Congressman Eric Cantor. “I’ve never before supported any Democrat, but this election Terry is the clear choice for mainstream conservatives,” he says. Marcus will be working as a consultant to the McAuliffe campaign, a move which prompted Cuccinelli strategist Chris LaCivita to tweet: “Some people will do anything for 30 pieces of silver.”

A few GOP die-hards from Virginia remain in the Cuccinelli camp, including Richmond philanthropist William Goodwin and coal baron Richard Baxter Gilliam. But the list of Cuccinelli’s donors is long with out-of-state money and billionaires who bankroll staunch right-wing agendas regarding homosexuality, abortion and new taxes.

Locally, that same right-wing agenda is worrying some Republican business leaders.

“Cuccinelli’s focus on extreme social issues will distract from urgent economic matters and make Virginia less welcoming to business,” says Dwight Schar, a GOP stalwart who also has dropped Cuccinelli.

Some business executives in the state are also concerned that Cuccinelli did not initially back Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s signature legislation to raise sales taxes and put fresh money away for roads for the first time since 1987.

But Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington says that in the near-term, the defections, while interesting, won’t hurt Cuccinelli.

“I don't think that attorney general will end up at the short end of the stick in his national profile or his ability to raise money,” he says.

Indeed, out-of-state donors are lining up to donate to Cuccinelli. Besides large Republican political action committees, Cuccinelli has big donations from Pittsburgh coal giant Consol Energy ($100,000), Texas oilman Timothy Dunn ($50,000), Wyoming stockbroker Foster Freiss ($30,000) and David Koch, a fabulously rich Kansas petroleum baron famous for boosting his national right-wing agenda ($85,000 including his company’s donation).

To be sure, McAuliffe’s donation list is just as filled with out-of-state interests. Old friend Bill Clinton kicked in $100,000. Of the top 50 donors who gave more than $50,000, only 12 are from Virginia, according to the Virginia Political Action Project. Cuccinelli’s 50 biggest donors include roughly the same proportion of Virginians.

Unions are playing perhaps their biggest role ever in an election in Virginia, where the anti-union right-to-work law is considered sacrosanct. Of the $12.6 million McAuliffe has raised so far (Cuccinelli has raised $7.6 million), almost $2 million of it comes from labor unions or associations.

Leading the list is the Firefighters International Association with $250,000. Following it $200,000 from the American Federation of State, Local and Municipal Workers, a bargaining unit conservatives love to hate.

A recent poll shows McAuliffe ahead 48-42.

“That’s a bigger lead than we’ve seen,” says Farnsworth, who describes it as a combination of McDonnell’s fall from grace in the Giftgate scandal and the failure of Cuccinelli to make his criticisms of McAuliffe stick.

The wild card for both candidates would be if McDonnell is indicted or resigns. “That would completely change the landscape,” Farnsworth says.

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