Why Ken Cuccinelli Lost Virginia (and What Other Candidates Can Learn From This)

131103_cuccinelli_ap_328“Deion Sanders was so good at shutting down the best receiver on the field that he helped two teams, Dallas and San Francisco, win Super Bowls. His defensive coaches used to say, ‘Deion, just travel with that guy all day long and we won’t even worry about that side of the field.’ It allowed the rest of the defense to improvise, create, dominate.”  NY Times

Ken Cuccinelli’s race for governor hit close to home but due to the final countdown from Northern Virginia, it was lost.  This was a bitter race.  It was raw and it scraped under the skin.  We all had a stake in the tide that turned Virginia.

My analysis is that he could have won and, thanks to his fight against Obamacare, he almost did.  To understand what happened, we must look at Virginia, not through the spectacle of CNN or FOX, but from the grassroots battleground where it was fought.  In a war, you cannot forget to cover every corner and you must have your troops stationed everywhere.

The headline of the NY Times read, “Giants Lose Battle of the Corners”.   That headline was memorable to me in this race since Virginia conservatives believed we had a Giant.  Ken was a man who swept through the Virginia Republican Convention like a rock star back when he ran for Attorney General.  He got more applause and more standing ovations than both the Lieutenant Governor and the Gubernatorial candidate.  Cuccinelli’s campaign for Attorney General was handled brilliantly.  Just a year prior, he had won his Virginia Senate seat narrowly by about a hundred votes.  And how did he win in a predominantly liberal district where there were no other GOP State Senate seats in Richmond?  Groundwork.

Another very important reason Cuccinelli won his earlier elections is because of the Asian American minority voters in Fairfax.   The Fairfax Korean community is extensive, and it is where the majority of the ethnic voters come from.  In this community, almost everyone who can vote does so.  During his AG campaign, Cuccinelli attended a dinner interview with one of the predominant Korean community newspapers in the area as well as attending the church services; he went to the major church social picnics and the biggest ethnic festival in Fairfax, the Korean Festival.  He was also able to get into a huge Korean Church that no other politician had been able to attend (unless invited to a private wedding or funeral).  Throughout Cuccinelli’s AG campaign, he personally went out into the community and shook the hands of his constituents.  He ate their food–he showed them he cared.  He followed through. Ken Cuccinelli became real, not just the “usual politician”.  And in Fairfax, everyone knows the swing vote is the Korean American community.

Again, as many Democrat politicians have told me, they don’t want Ken out there shaking hands and meeting people.  Why?  Because that is when people find out he is sincere and that he is for the people—and that’s when they’ve lost their vote.  Early on, Cuccinelli was a favorite in the Asian community.  People loved his boyish smile, his kindness, his politeness, his willingness to try the spicy food and to laugh at himself when it was, yes, too spicy.  They loved his firm handshake and his sincere fervor in wanting to know what he could do to assist in the well being of this community.  They loved that he listened. Cuccinelli won the Attorney General race in Fairfax partly because of his attention to the Asian community.

But something happened along the way.  The 2013 election is over and Terry McAuliffe will be the next Governor of Virginia. Ken Cuccinelli was ahead until the last count coming in–from Fairfax.

The difference was that Terry McAuliffe was there—he was a very present force in Fairfax.  Just as Cuccinelli once did during his AG race, McAuliffe attended every ethnic function he could find.  If you heard about a dinner somewhere in Fairfax, Mr. McAuliffe was there.  Even back in 2001 when I chaired a dinner for the Korean American Coalition of Washington, D.C.’s Fundraiser, McAuliffe came.  He was only the DNC chair at the time, but he was there, mingling, laughing, and shaking hands.  People may joke about him attending a fundraiser when his wife had just had a baby, but bottom line, Terry McAuliffe was there, appearing to care about the Asian community.  I recently spoke to the head of CommonSenseBlog.net regarding McAuliffe’s “perfect attendance” record; McAuliffe wasn’t very visible nor did he take charge of the discussion.  And when you consider how little did interviews, Ken could have dominated the free media.  You don’t need to pay for that.

What follows are some of the reasons (aka excuses) that the media and the GOP are giving as to why Ken Cuccinelli lost the governor’s race:

1.  Bill Bolling Should Have Helped More

The national news outlets have been reporting that part of the reason Cuccinelli lost was because the current Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Bill Bolling, should have contributed more.  Yes, it may have helped a little if fellow Republican Bill Bolling had endorsed Ken Cuccinelli.  Mr. Bolling was supposed to be the lead candidate for Virginia for the gubernatorial race; he was squeaky clean and everyone loved him, but he chose to back out of the campaign gracefully a little after Mr. Cuccinelli announced he was running. Bolling knew he could not win; Ken Cuccinelli was the darling of the RNC 4 years ago and he would definitely have that position again.  Bolling said:  “I know how divisive conventions can be, and I was concerned that a prolonged campaign between Mr. Cuccinelli and me could create deep divisions within our party. The convention process would have forced Republican activists to take sides against their friends in local committees all across our state. The wounds that can develop from that type of process are often difficult to heal.”

I commend Mr. Bill Bolling for bowing out gracefully and staying away from the media after.  Mr. Bolling did his part to assist Ken Cuccinelli–but this had to have been very personal for him. Bolling was to be the Gubernatorial candidate and until October 2011, Mr. Cuccinelli had said time and time again he would not run for Governor.  Because of his insistence that he wasn’t running, many believe he forced a divide of frustrated GOP voters; and still, Cuccinelli led the election just before the final count—which came from Fairfax.  So don’t blame Bill Bolling.

2.  Libertarian Robert Sarvis—With Help From the Democrat Party—Took Votes Away

So what about the (small) percentage that voted for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis?  Well, a few voters will always write in “Mickey Mouse”.  And remember, Sarvis took away votes from Terry McAuliffe as well.  Basically, Sarvis was simply an alternative to not supporting Ken Cuccinelli–and/or hating the Left and Right.

3.  Cuccinelli Didn’t Have Enough Money

If you live in Northern Virginia and ask any Democrat politician what is the most important thing in garnering votes, they will tell you forget about the money because in the end, the only thing that counts at the polls are votes!  Of course, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.  The Democrats dominate in vote-gathering, and Virginians need only to recall local State Senator Chap Petersen’s shoes to get the picture:  “Petersen, who in 2007 held up a pair of shoes he’d worn out during campaigning, has begun hitting the pavement again to meet some of the 34th District’s 60,000 new voters, who were added during redistricting earlier this year.”  The truth is, Ken Cuccinelli received millions from the National GOP–perhaps not as much as Chris Christie, but enough.  He also received money from the Republican Governors Association, which was more then the present Governor had received during his election.  Remember–Ken Cuccinelli was outspent when running for his Senate race, too.

So no, money wasn’t the issue.

There were also reports about failed equipment and/or voter fraud–but ultimately, who do we blame?  The campaign.  They ignored the wave of ethnic minority voters, period.  To the majority of this voting population, the campaign separated him into a corner that divided the color of change in Northern Virginia.  You can claim to woo people all you want, but if you ignore these people and you don’t show up, they won’t know who you are.   Cuccinelli’s campaign leaders maintained his “Rock Star” status– but in a way that placed him beyond touch, above the average person.

One prime example of where Cuccinelli’s campaign went wrong was regarding an event at the Korean Senior Center of Fairfax County, where almost all seniors go to vote.  They held a dinner in which the entire community came together to, among other things, help assist Cuccinelli’s campaign.  This is the message the Center received in response:

This is Cory, Ken’s assistant. I help him keep up with this email.

Your advice is well heeded. Ken had been getting inundated with advice from many different sources on many different topics.

What we need most is for people like you to continue pushing for Ken amongst your family, friends, and community. I know you’ve been a supporter for a long time.

What this showed the Korean Senior Center was that 1), Ken Cuccinelli doesn’t read his mail anymore, and 2), their input as to how they could help fire up their community was being totally disregarded.  For many in the Fairfax Korean community, they took this as a sign that Cuccinelli forgot how he originally got into office:  the people’s votes.  His campaign seemed reliant on riding the tide from his previous Senate and Attorney General races, both which were very much aided by the wave of Korean American and ethnic voters who supported him.

Bottom line, Ken Cuccinelli forgot about Fairfax, which used to be his home and where the huge amount of votes can turn those tides.  Yes, he held rallies and his wife had tea parties and fundraisers asking people to come—but the majority of voters are working hard to bring home money to pay their mortgage, rent, bills, insurance, and food; they do not have time to go to rallies, and tea parties and fundraisers.  And to be perfectly blunt about it, Cuccinelli’s campaign was not galvanized to hit the ethnic communities.  Mr. Ken Cuccinelli was not seen or heard.  He should have been there—but instead, Terry McAuliffe was.  The Cuccinelli campaign seemed to forget about the leaders in the minority grassroots movement in Northern Virginia and Fairfax—the Hispanics, Koreans, and other ethnic groups.  My analysis is that they didn’t want to lose control of power, but for many, it felt like Romney’s campaign all over again.

For all future candidates out there, I am hoping that Cuccinelli’s race—and ultimate loss—will be a learning lesson for you. Candidates, you need to remember that many voters simply do not have the time to research and educate themselves about who you are.  Don’t ask them to come to you—you need to go to them.  You need to go where they work and play.  Shake their hands; look them in their eyes and tell them you care.  These seemingly small things are very powerful and will almost guarantee your vote.  Say ‘hello’ to your neighbors; a smile and a handshake can burn barriers that you never thought you could overcome. There will never be a perfect candidate but you can have an almost perfect campaign.  Know your audience and know who your voters are.  All the money in the world won’t matter if you can’t get voters to vote–and for proof of this, look no further than California’s last gubernatorial race with ultra-wealthy Meg Whitman, who spent $140 million of her own money and still lost to “Moonbeam” Jerry Brown.

On a completely personal level, I was extremely disappointed when Cuccinelli lost, especially as we saw the last numbers plummet.  I was crying as I watched his concession speech.  I could see how much of his life (and the life of his family) was put into the race.  Ken believes in our founding principles, that “all men are created equal” and are entitled to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.  I praise Ken Cuccinelli for his effort and drive.  He will be remembered for his true love of Virginia and the law.  And, quite honestly, I believe he would have made the best Governor.  He is one of Virginia’s Giants.

“I don’t back down, I’m not afraid to lose. What happens if I lose? I go home. I like going home.” – Ken Cuccinelli

Jin Ah Jin

Virginia PolitiChick Jin Ah Jin has been the lead in campaigns for many politicians, including Ken Cuccinelli for both State Senate and Attorney General and she was appointed the Honorary Chairman for the Fairfax County Asian American Coalition for the McCain/ Palin campaign. Jin also assists in local minority grassroots politics in her state of Virginia. She believes if we can elect and support good officials whose root is the care of their constituents, then we can change things. In her past, Jin worked as a volunteer fundraiser for Mercy Corps raising awareness and money for the health and poverty of women and children in North Korea. She was also a volunteer fundraiser for the Korean American Association of Greater Washington, D.C. area and led the Education Committee to teach English for newly arrived legal immigrants to the area. In conjunction, she worked with the office of former Congressman Thomas Davis, who took the lead on reforms in the welfare bill for legal immigrants. Jin was a former Vice President of Resources, board member and Fundraising Gala chair for the Korean American Coalition of Washington, D.C. in 2001. She was on the Scholarship Committee and the co-chair of the golf tournament fundraiser for the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce 2003-2006. More importantly, Jin is the mother of 6 children. She says her passion for service is led through her children's eyes: "I want change for my children. I want them to have a future where their dreams can become reality and where they can succeed without prejudice."

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