Gridlock inevitable for next governor, political experts say

Terry McAuliffe, Robert Sarvis and Ken Cuccinelli

Terry McAuliffe, Robert Sarvis and Ken Cuccinelli

EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. Students from the project reported the following story.

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR.com) – With recent polling averages showing neither Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli above 50 percent, this may be the first time in nearly 50 years that a gubernatorial candidate in Virginia will be elected into office without a 50-percent majority vote.

Averages on Real Clear Politics show McAuliffe leading with 44 to 38 percent against Cuccinelli and Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis pulling in 10 percent of the votes.

If these numbers hold true on Election Day, political analysts say this could cause gridlock in the Virginia legislature, making it nearly impossible for either candidate to get anything done or carry out his policies once elected governor.

“There is a really good chance that you will get gridlock,” said John Aughenbaugh, political science professor at VCU. He believes that McAuliffe will likely run into problems governing with a Republican-controlled House of Delegates and a Senate that is split between the two parties.

If McAuliffe takes office with less than 50 percent of the vote, the state will have to determine if it will support McAuliffe’s plans, Aughenbaugh said.

“In terms of governing, you have a situation where the state will have to make a decision on whether or not it’s going to participate in Medicaid expansion via the Affordable Care Act. The state can continue a struggle in regards to transportation funding,” Aughenbaugh said. “What’s the state going to do in regards to higher education and K-12?”

But Aughenbaugh pointed out that these issues will be significant for both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, once elected governor and dealing with a state legislature controlled by the opposite party or divided between both parties.

He said the concern with Cuccinelli being elected would be his divisive focus on economic and social policy issues, which won’t get much backing on the state level.

“He probably won’t get Democratic support in the state legislature, and he may even lose the few moderate Republicans that still remain in either house of the state legislature,” he said. “So the potential for gridlock is pretty high based on what we are seeing pre-election polling.”

But Deirdre Condit, chair of the Political Science and International Studies Department at VCU, feels the problem is far deeper than a candidate being elected without a majority vote.

“It looks like we will have roughly 30 to 35 percent of eligible voters turnout. That’s a pretty low number. That indicates that there are more problems at the core of this election than just what percentage of that small percent of the electorate turns out,” she said.

Condit said the large gender gap will decide this election, and predicted that Cuccinelli’s positions on social issues will be his downfall.

“The problem itself is Mr. Cuccinelli. He can’t walk away from what he believes,” she said.

For McAuliffe, Condit said his unconventional route that has not led him through the “state quality candidacy pipeline” has caused him many problems in understanding Virginia party politics.

“He has struggled with a kind of internal state legitimacy, and I think that holds over his head even as we go into the election,” Condit said.

Aughenbaugh also said McAuliffe might not be able to carry out his agenda with the Republican majority in the house being so strong. He said Tea Party activists more than likely won’t compromise, if McAuliffe is elected into office.

“If it was just the senate, I could see McAuliffe being able. But when you are a governor or president and the legislature is in part controlled by the other political party, you really must like getting your hands dirty with the legislative process,” he said. “And I don’t know if McAuliffe has the stomach for it.”

Aughenbaugh said if Cuccinelli is elected, he will have the same type of problems with the senate that has been generally more moderate.

“He may have to go ahead and compromise just to get senate approval on some of his legislative initiatives,” he said.

Condit agrees and believes that either candidate that comes in as the next governor will struggle to get his agenda carried through a divided legislature.

“I don’t think it would be an easy road for either one,” she said. “I think we’re going to have four years of a complicated, slow-moving, trying to find compromise here and there where necessary.”

By Talisha Williams and Samantha Morgan (Special to WTVR.com)

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.

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