When behind-the-scenes dealings become public in a political race, cue the adverse consequences. That’s the way things have gone this week for Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s Democratic candidate for governor who’s running against Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
It all has to do with the Northern Virginia Technology Council and its political arm, TechPAC. The organization represents hundreds of high-tech businesses and other like-minded organizations.
It decided last week to endorse Cuccinelli but held off on the announcement amid intense lobbying from some of the commonwealth's Democratic heavy-hitters - including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner - in an effort to elicit an 11th-hour change of heart.
Thus began the negative fallout. What could have been a much-ado-about-nothing became a much-ado-about-something.
That’s the word from perhaps the two most prominent followers of Virginia politics, former Virginia Commonwealth University professor Robert Holsworth and Larry Sabato, director for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“Until this flap, 99.9 percent of Virginians had never even heard of the NVTC, which leans Republican anyway,” Sabato said. “The group's endorsement would have been a nearly invisible part of the campaign had the McAuliffe campaign not elevated it into a controversy by trying to reverse the decision.”
That begs a question: Why in the heck is an endorsement from TechPac so important?
Holsworth was frank with a response.
“The endorsement was important because Cuccinelli had been experiencing more difficulty than usual for a Republican candidate in consolidating business support,” he said. “To gain the endorsement of a technology oriented business group such as NVTC , that many people assumed was leaning toward McAuliffe, was a significant political surprise.”
According to accounts in the Washington Post, sources said McAuliffe came off as unprepared during his pitch to NVTC officials while Cuccinelli delivered a more-detailed accounting.
Prime fodder for political ads.
And quite the strange week for the race.
And it all began with the effort to reverse an endorsement from a little-known-to-the-common-man group.
“That misguided effort involving some of McAuliffe's biggest guns led to stories about the Democrat's less-than-stellar interview with NVTC,” Sabato said. “No question, this was a major mistake by the McAuliffe campaign. It has given fodder to Cuccinelli for his charge that McAuliffe is unprepared to be governor.
“Win or lose, McAuliffe will probably list this as one of the worst moments for his campaign. It's a totally self-inflicted wound.”
Asked about Sabato’s comments, the McAuliffe campaign did not immediately respond.