Endorsements don't win elections, but a handful of announced supporters in the 2013 Virginia governor's race appear more than the typical ho-hum, party-line cheerleading.
Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, a Northern Virginia businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman, has touted a string of endorsements from Republican and independent former lawmakers and independent voices, including former finance chair for the Republican National Committee Dwight Schar, former state Del. Vince Callahan (R), former Republican Gov. Linwood Holton, former state Del. Katherine Waddell (I) and dozens of other lawmakers.
McAuliffe has also secured the more-expected support of the National Abortion Rights Action League, the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, Equality Virginia and the League of Conservation Voters.
The big-name endorsements for Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general, have been less surprising. The Republican has advertised his support from all of Virginia's Republican congressmen, the Police Benevolent Association and the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation AgPAC, the largest farmers' advocacy group in the commonwealth.
Larry Sabato, a political scientist and the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said the lack of headline-grabbing endorsements for Cuccinelli could open up an opportunity for the Republican's camp.
When asked how Cuccinelli should respond to the slew of Republicans endorsing the Democratic candidate, Sabato said: “I don't know, perhaps go pure populist, say 'the establishment in both parties is against me because I'm going to keep them all honest and I care about the little people, not the big boys.' To some degree, that fits with Cuccinelli's anti-establishment tendencies."
Sabato noted that it's not unprecedented for Republicans in Virginia to endorse Democrats. He pointed to former governors and Sens. Chuck Robb and Mark Warner, who had moderate support from Republicans, as examples.
“What is at least mildly surprising,” Sabato stated, is that the Republicans are “so willing to embrace a Democrat who has his own list of flaws over Cuccinelli.”
“No one bats an eye when Linwood Holton backs a Democrat, but the group of former moderate GOP legislators has almost unanimously picked McAuliffe,” Sabato said. “Most voters don't have a clue who they are or were. It's more a reinforcement of what we're finding around the state, that Cuccinelli just isn't going to get all that many votes from the Bolling faction.”
Sabato highlighted one recent endorsement as somewhat significant – the Virginia Association of Realtors' (VAR) support for McAuliffe.
VAR has announced its support for all Democratic statewide candidates in 2013: McAuliffe, state Sen. Mark Herring, the attorney general prospect and state Sen. Ralph Northam, lieutenant governor nominee.
“Both sides can boast endorsements from swing groups that can't automatically be counted in either party camp. The one that struck me the most was Virginia Realtors. Overall, they've been GOP-leaning, and certainly the rank-and-file in Virginia and nationally tilt to the Republicans," Sabato said.