Neither Terry McAuliffe nor Ken Cuccinelli compares to RGIII. But like the Redskin quarterback, the two Virginia gubernatorial candidates have spent this summer preparing for the official campaign kickoff. Our proprietary 10 point evaluation system examines their pre-season performance to determine the campaign’s current status.
- The Vince Lombardi backup plan. The legendary Green Bay Packer coach said every winning team has a “go to” play when in trouble. His Packers had the power sweep. McAuliffe’s student left is crushing Cuccinelli’s right side on women’s issues. The GOP standard-bearer so far lacks a countervailing offensive thrust. Advantage McAuliffe.
- The George Allen personnel policy. The Redskin’s Hall of Fame coach used older experienced players to outfox younger teams. After losing in 2009, McAuliffe hired a new team of seasoned non Virginia campaign professionals. Cuccinelli instead stayed with his insular, less experienced younger posse. If McAuliffe’s pros lose, they know the Clintons will be unforgiving. Advantage McAuliffe.
- Bill Tilden’s unforced error rule. The legendary 1920’s tennis immortal believed unforced errors decided most matches. GreenTech Auto is McAuliffe’s biggest unforced error. But Cuccinelli’s refusal to return gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams has prevented Cuccinelli from fully exploiting the GreenTech mess. Slight Advantage McAuliffe.
- The Jackie Robinson education mantra. The iconic Brooklyn Dodger great regarded education as the great equalizer. Education has been the most reliable winner’s issue in a Governor’s race. McAuliffe opted to focus on jobs again. This left education for Cuccinelli and he is running with it – hard. Advantage Cuccinelli.
- Mark Wahlberg’s special team rule. The star actor played Philadelphia Eagles punt team leader Vince Papale in the movie Invincible. Special teams often win big games. McAuliffe is backed by a growing list of disaffected Virginia Republicans besides heavyweight Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. But Cuccinelli is struggling to find needed Republican validators. Advantage McAuliffe.
- Sam Wyche trick play surprise. Former Bengals coach Sam Wyche earned notoriety by surprising opponents with winning trick plays. Being the first AG to sue the President over Obamacare made Cuccinelli a Republican hero. But this summer, his “outside the box” plays were either fumbled or intercepted. McAuliffe has stuck to safe plays called by campaign coaches. Boring is working. So far. Advantage McAuliffe.
- Bill Veeck “new media” rule. The Hall of Fame owner and master promoter broke with traditional sports marketing, luring fans looking for entertainment, not just a box score. He would have instinctively understood the unique PR potential of social media. The McAuliffe and Cuccinelli campaigns, though, are making Mitt Romney’s leaden 2012 presidential campaign seem trendy. Twitter right now is predicting a relatively low turnout. Even.
- Brad Pitt’s acclaimed underdog strategy. Jennifer Aniston’s ex-squeeze brilliantly played Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane in the movie Moneyball. The innovative GM used an obscure book on baseball statistics to find unappreciated talent in players traditionally viewed as losers. This allowed Beane to field a team purchased at the Dollar Store with talent equal to organizations paying full retail on Rodeo Drive. Cuccinelli is no McAuliffe at fund-raising. But so far, he isn’t challenging Brad Pitt either. Advantage McAuliffe.
- Pete Rozelle “Boob Tube” Rule. Legendary NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle instinctively knew a football team could use television to dominate the sporting world in a media market. But unlike the innovative Rozell, the two major campaigns are following a retro TV ad strategy. On the current track, they will spend more combined money on TV ads than ever before in Virginia without producing a single influential commercial. Cuccinelli’s campaign even violates the Rozelle “dominate your market” rule by dissipating his TV impact due to running far too many different commercials to make the required voter impact. This is a rookie mistake in a marque race. Slight Advantage McAuliffe.
- Miley Cyrus “backfield in motion.” The former Disney child star’s overboard twerking at the Video Music Awards turned off viewers. McAuliffe and Cuccinelli likewise have upside down images, more negative than positive. Every previous gubernatorial winner maintained a positive overall rating. Both candidates are now “Blurred Lines,” the title of the summer’s biggest pop hit. Even.
Bottom line: This gives McAuliffe a 6 point advantage after summer camp, but it is far too early for Democrats to spike the ball in the end zone. Ken Cuccinelli is a grinder, and in the past has won races the conventional wisdom said he was going to lose. Can he do it one more time?
Norm Leahy is editor at-large of Bearing Drift.com and producer of “The Score” radio show. Paul Goldman is the former director of the Democratic Party of Virginia.