The Virginia gubernatorial race in historical perspective [UPDATED]

The Virginia gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli hasn’t been called yet. McAuliffe is expected to win. We’ll keep you posted.

A McAuliffe victory will give rise to considerable tut-tutting about the danger of nominating Tea Party and/or socially conservative candidates. Indeed, the prospect of that victory has already done so.

I’ve pointed to the same kind of danger in specific races, most notably the Delaware Senate race of 2010. But the danger is not universal. And even where it exists, it should be balanced against other considerations, including, of course, the positions of potential Republican candidates on key issues.

Before the Virginia tut-tutting goes any further, it may be useful to remember that Democrats have done well in plenty of past Virginia gubernatorial races. Here are the results of the previous eight, of which the Democrat won five. Note that the Tea Party was only in existence for one of them, and it was won by the Republican in the biggest victory of the batch.

2009 McDonnell (R) 58.6 percent; Deeds (D) 41.3 percent

2005 Kilgore (R) 45.9 percent; Kaine (D) 51.7 percent

2001 Earley (R) 47.0 percent; Warner (D) 52.2 percent

1997 Gilmore (R) 55.8 percent; Beyer (D) 42.6 percent

1993 Allen (R) 56.3 percent; Terry (D) 40.9 percent

1989 Coleman (R) 49.8 percent; Wilder (D) 50.1 percent

1985 Durrette (R) 44.8 percent; Baliles (D) 55.2 percent

1981 Coleman (R) 46.4; Robb (D) 53.6 percent

Let’s also note that Cuccinelli’s campaign was hurt by a third party libertarian candidate (apparently funded in part by pro-Obama forces).

In addition, Republicans were hurt this year by the fact that Gov. McConnell and family received a considerable amount of money/gifts they should not have, and that Cuccinelli received a small amount he should not have.

Finally, let’s not forget that McAuliffe massively outspent Cuccinelli.

UPDATE: The race still hasn’t been called, but McAuliffe appears to be headed for a fairly narrow victory. The race may well be closer than seven of the previous eight, the exception being Doug Wilder’s cliff-hanger victory in 1989.

In addition, McAuliffe, if he wins, will probably fall short of 50 percent of the vote. In all of the races cited above, the winner cleared that modest threshold.

MORE: Exit polling reportedly shows McAuliffe doing better in Arlington County, just outside of Washington, DC, than Obama did in 2012. Why? Two explanations pop immediately to mind: (1) the government shutdown and (2) Cuccinelli’s strong social conservatism. I’m guessing that (1) is the primary explanation.

FURTHER UPDATE: McAuliffe has pulled slightly ahead in the raw vote with 91 percent of precincts reporting. This almost certainly means a victory for McAuliffe; the late Virginia vote is always predominantly from Democratic strongholds.

Some outlets are calling the race for McAuliffe; others aren’t making a call yet. I’m expecting a margin of victory of around 2 percent.

In this scenario, Cuccinelli’s strong finish — not long ago, he was trailing by around 10 percent in most polls — becomes part of the story. The strong finish will be attributed to the growing unpopularity of Obamacare, and rightly so in my opinion.

FINAL REPORT: McAuliffe has won a narrow victory.

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