McDonnell and his wife’s failure to disclose massive amounts of cash and gifts given to the couple by a donor blew up in June and July, before news of a federal investigation into the matter dropped in August. Cuccinelli also has a relationship with the donor, and for a candidate who some voters were leery of to begin with, there was little margin for error.
And the shutdown, for which Congressional Republicans were widely blamed, likely snuffed out the rest of the candidacy. Because federal dollars are such a tremendous driver of the state’s economy, Virginia is unusually sensitive to a government shutdown, perhaps more than any other state in the country. The government shutdown would probably play just as poorly in recently storm-ravaged New Jersey (Christie himself took a very anti-shutdown, personality-driven stance), but how big a factor would the shutdown have been in an Ohio or Nevada or Colorado gubernatorial race? A driving political issue or just a couple easily dispatched questions in a debate? It’s unclear.
Finally, there’s Cuccinelli’s abysmal campaign. The candidate backed off campaigning on contentious social issues that made him divisive in the first place (again, ruining the equation). In fact, he backed off promoting much of an agenda at all. He struggled to produce three things his campaign was about in an interview with the conservative Weekly Standard — just two weeks before the election. In the absence of a tangible platform, Cuccinelli’s campaign ended up being about Cuccinelli himself (-14 favorability rating). Unlike Christie, that just wasn’t a viable strategy for Cuccinelli.