Top Cuccinelli advisor: What killed us more than anything was ... the shutdown

It’s Chris La Civita, the same guy whose comment Tuesday night about national Republicans abandoning Cooch in early October lit the fuse of the RINO/tea party powderkeg that exploded yesterday. Don’t blame the RNC, he now says. Blame the damned shutdown, which of course was very strongly opposed by the big-money RINOs who’ve been slammed for supposedly having stabbed Cuccinelli in the back.

“It moved the disaster of Obamacare away from our narrative,” he says, in an interview with National Review Online. “It sucked the oxygen out of the room. Instead of talking about Obamacare, we were talking about the shutdown.”

In mid October, LaCivita says, the campaign was startled by how the shutdown affected their momentum. Their internal poll numbers dipped and several of the Virginia attorney general’s donors, especially conservative groups aligned with Cuccinelli, “suddenly became gun-shy.”…

LaCivita, however, doesn’t blame national Republican power brokers for Cuccinelli’s loss. Yes, he says, they spent less in Virginia than they did during the 2009 gubernatorial race, which was easily won by Republican Bob McDonnell. But they did step up, he says, and provided valuable support.

“Wait a sec,” you say. “Didn’t the exit polls in Virginia show that voters there blamed the GOP and Obama nearly equally for the shutdown?” Indeed they did, but La Civita’s not really claiming otherwise. He’s not saying that people turned against Cooch because of it, he’s saying that the campaign was deprived of the chance to spend the entire final month hammering McAuliffe on O-Care. The shutdown was a distraction at a crucial moment. Then again, just because the final exits showed a nearly even split on blame doesn’t mean that that split was even all along. La Civita himself says Cuccinelli’s polling dropped initially because of it, which evidently was enough to convince some righty donors that he was a lost cause. Dig a bit further into the exits and you’ll see that the shutdown hurt Cooch a lot with a not-so-small segment of the electorate: “[McAuliffe] also won the three in 10 Virginia voters who said someone in their household was affected by the partial federal shutdown last month, by a 19-point margin.” Maybe most of those were Democratic households to begin with, but not all were. Some were surely headed by people in the defense industry. How many potential GOP votes switched there?

It could even be that the reason the polls didn’t detect Cuccinelli’s near-win is because anger over the shutdown gradually evaporated after it ended. As the story of the government closing down faded and the story of the O-Care trainwreck emerged, people who were initially sour on the GOP because of the former began to see some merit in the “defund” campaign in hindsight — just not quite enough to bring Cooch all the way back from the hit he took earlier in the month. That’s conjecture, but it’s interesting that a guy as close to Cuccinelli as LaCivita would say something that might feed it. Ah well. Doesn’t really matter. Both wings of the party are convinced that it was the other side that kneecapped Ken. Nothing will change that.

Exit question: Many grassroots conservative groups spent money to try to elect Cuccinelli, but some didn’t — and they’re criticizing the RNC anyway for having spent “only” $3 million. How come?

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