Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is running unopposed for the nod in Virginia’s 2013 Democratic Primary Election on Tuesday.
But with four Democratic candidates still competing for a spot on his ticket — and GOP opponents already attracting national attention on controversial issues — be prepared for a general election heavy with advertising, national political stars and big bucks from party donors on both sides.
The outcome of the general election -- which unofficially begins when the last Tuesday primary vote is counted -- could tip the country's political balance, as well as the evenly-split Virginia senate. One thing is certain: the 2013 race will be watched inside, and outside, Virginia.
“The eyes of the country are going to be on Virginia voters,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “It’s good news for people who want to be paying attention to politics, but it’s probably bad news in terms of the number of campaign ads that state residents are going to sit through. These are both candidates who have been very aggressive very early in terms of the attacks.”
Virginia voters can expect to see a lot more of that, he said.
The state's gubernatorial elections have always been closely watched because of their odd-year timing immediately after a presidential election.
This year, both McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, are savvy fundraisers and national names.
- See: Virginia Governor's Race: McAuliffe Continues to Outraise Cuccinelli
“In many ways, you can look at these races as something approaching a leading political indicator of the mood of the country,” Farnsworth told Patch. “It’s an approximation of what might happen in the midterm elections, as well as the popularity of the incumbent president the year after the election.”
Plus, the governor’s race in New Jersey is likely to be a one-sided affair, leaving more party dollars for the Virginia race, Farnsworth said.
“Virginia governor races always get a lot of out-of-state money,” he said. “Whatever money is floating around in politics in this country is likely to find its way to Virginia between now and November.”
The lieutenant governor and attorney general candidates are also drawing attention in 2013.
Typically, Virginia Democrats select experienced candidates who they think will be the most electable.
But the Republicans’ choice of Chesapeake pastor E.W. Jackson as Cuccinelli’s running mate could give Democrats some leeway with their choice, Farnsworth said. Jackson has come under scrutiny for controversial remarks he made about gays and Planned Parenthood and only earned 5 percent of the vote in the 2012 Republican Primary won by George Allen for a U.S. Senate Seat. Allen went on to lose the seat to Time Kaine.
“The selection of E.W. Jackson has given democrats a lot more latitude,” Farnsworth said.
The attorney general candidate will have his work cut out for him as well.
A Democrat hasn’t been elected attorney general in 24 years, but past Republican attorneys general have had excellent opportunities to become national figures, like Gov. Bob McDonnell and Cuccinelli after him.
“There is a huge importance that the attorney general plays in Virginia politics,” Farnsworth said.
The evenly split state senate, however, could play a bigger role in the primary than some people realize, Farnsworth said.
If elected, both state sens. Mark Herring and Ralph Northam would vacate their senate seats, triggering special elections that the right Republican candidate would be competitive in. The risk of losing the senate to the Republicans could sway some Democrats and ultimately benefit Justin Fairfax and Aneesh Chopra.
“For some Democrats, the risk of losing a 20-20 senate is a risk they would not be interested in taking,” Farnsworth said.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Here’s a rundown of what you need to know for the election:
Although Chopra lacks Northam’s veteran experience in public office, he has more financial support behind him, soundly beating Northam in the most recent fundraising period.
The victor in Tuesday’s primary will share a ticket with Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic Party and Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Like Northam, Herring has experience as an advantage in the race, but Fairfax’s history as a prosecutor has won him looks from big players, including a Washington Post endorsement.