Call it the summer of scandal. The sitting governor of Virginia is under federal investigation for having received over $100,000 in gifts from Star Scientific C.E.O. Johnnie Williams. The Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli has also received $18,000 in gifts and trips from the same executive. In addition, a company formerly led by the Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is important to the main focus of my research, as the messages of both candidates are being drowned out by these stories, and risk turning this race into one in which the issues are only an afterthought.
For Cuccinelli, the Star Scientific story is one that has already robbed him of a popular incumbent ally. Bob McDonnell six months ago had some of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the country. Now, they have fallen to a point where his disapproval numbers outweigh his approval by double digits. While McDonnell has publicly apologized and paid back the value of the gifts and loans, Cuccinelli is still being dogged by questions about his own gifts, and whether or not to pay them back.
McAuliffe had already been under attack from Republicans over his company Greentech Automotive, for building it in Mississippi. Now, with the SEC investigating the company over its procurement of visas and promises made to foreign investors, he risks losing the high ground from which to attack Cuccinelli; he also opens himself up to attacks that he is untrustworthy.
So far, the race is close, with Real Clear Politics showing an average of all public polling giving McAuliffe a statistically insignificant 1.3 percentage point lead. This race is expected to be close until election day, but the issues are being drowned out by headlines about corruption and controversy.