With voters heading to the polls today in Virginia and the Governor’s mansion up for grabs, there’s one major problem still lingering in the minds of the electorate: Both candidates are truly awful.
“These two candidates are among the worst I’ve ever seen” said Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, in a recent Daily Show appearance. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait took things a step farther, calling the race “the most depressing election in America.”
The good people of Virginia certainly agree. The National Journal reports that “Virginia’s race features two candidates so personally unpopular that the politics are practically irrelevant.” A recent poll by the bipartisan Purple Strategies found a stunningly low number of Virginians have a favorable view of Democrat Terry McAuliffe (24% favorability) and Republican Ken Cuccinelli (29% favorability).
Both candidates have been mired in corruption investigations. Cuccinelli, who served as Attorney General under troubled outgoing governor Bob McDonnell, has himself faced scrutiny for inappropriate personal ties to pharmaceutical company called Star Scientific. Cuccinelli was also at the center of an Inspector General’s probe into whether one of his assistants improperly offered legal advice to two energy companies — One of which is a subsidiary of a corporation that has donated more than $100,000 to Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign.
Terry McAuliffe has also been implicated in a number of shady dealings, spanning from a Justice Department investigation of his real estate deals during his time as the Clinton’s chief fundraiser to a heavy dependence on cronyism in order to secure government subsides for GreenTech Automotive, a more recent business venture. McAuliffe also served as a frighteningly devoted Democratic Party operative, once even going so far as to skip out on the birth of one of his children to attend a fundraiser. That might sound like an exaggerated attempt at a political smear, but McAuliffe himself bragged about it in one of his books.
With all that in mind, perhaps it comes as less of a surprise that the Richmond Times-Dispatch — Virginia’s second largest newspaper — chose to endorse… no one.
“We cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate for governor.” — Richmond Times Dispatch
Faced with two horrible options, the people of Virginia have found themselves in an all-too-common predicament. Their next governor will not be the candidate they like the most, but the one they despise the least. While there are many factors at play when it comes to this phenomenon, one in particular stands out more than ever: The skyrocketing cost of political campaigns.
All told, this gubernatorial race has cost $60 million, making it the most expensive in Virginia’s history. The majority of both candidate’s money has come from outside of Virginia, and big-spending outside groups have turned the race into a proxy war over national issues. This has left Virginians with an endless chorus of platitudes (“Jobs! America! Middle class! Jobs!”) instead of real solutions to their state’s problems.
As noted money in politics reformer Lawrence Lessig once put it: “Before every election, there is an election.” And you, dear reader, don’t get a vote. Candidates who can’t raise the outrageous sums of money necessary to compete in this new environment of skyrocketing campaign costs are ruled out as viable options. The candidates this inevitably strands the voters with are not those most qualified for the job, but those most adept at groveling for cash — be it by appealing to ideological extremes and powerful outside interests (Cuccinelli) or through good old fashioned cronyism and sleaze (McAuliffe).
Barring an exceptionally close race or a recount, we’ll have a winner in this gubernatorial campaign by tomorrow morning. And while there are few certainties in politics, we can confidently predict that it won’t be the people of Virginia.