Democratic Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe

Democratic Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Shutdown Helps McAuliffe Win in Virginia

People affected by the shutdown voted for the Democrat by 57-36 percent.

The Virginia gubernatorial race was expected to be one of Tuesday's closest. But it ended up far closer than predicted, giving both Republicans and Democrats fodder in their bigger picture and premature arguments over 2014.

After the problems with came to light, the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, took to calling the race a "referendum on Obamacare." His argument: If you don't like Obamacare, vote for me. On the other side, allies of the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, more subtly suggested that the race was actually about the shutdown, and, more broadly, the conservative Tea Party activists that prompted it. Cuccinelli fed the flames of this argument when he blamed the shutdown for this dropping poll numbers earlier in October; he later back-tracked.

Even before the race was called, Republican pundits declared that one of those arguments was correct: the one about Obamacare. On CNN, Newt Gingrich and The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol riffed on the margin of defeat for Cuccinelli (which will probably end up being in the range of three points or so) as having been closer than expected precisely because of the Obamacare issue. Gingrich, for example, noted polls showing a double-digit McAuliffe lead last month, suggesting that the narrow actual margin of victory indicated that Americans were turning against the healthcare policy. In his concession speech, Cuccinelli made a similar point. (While it's true that some polls showed a wide lead for McAuliffe, most showed a fairly consistent six- or seven-point spread.) One set of exit polls showed that there wasn't a strong link between Obamacare and the candidates, however: 53 percent of voters oppose the policy, far more than gave Cuccinelli their votes.

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