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Obamacare not to blame for close Va. race, a top Democratic official says

The Democrat in the Virginia governor's election won more narrowly than expected. But Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, doesn't attribute the tightness to voter unhappiness over Obamacare.

By David T. CookStaff writer / November 7, 2013

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Thursday, November 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

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The rocky rollout of Obamacare and its unpopularity with voters did not cause the narrower-than-anticipated victory of Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe in Tuesday’s Virginia gubernatorial election.

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This is the argument that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chair of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), made Thursday at a breakfast for reporters hosted by the Monitor. “I do not think Obamacare had an impact on the Virginia election,” he said. “Really what Virginia was about was not about Obamacare.”

In the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday, Mr. McAuliffe ended up with a 2.5-point, 55,000-vote edge over Ken Cuccinelli, a tea party supporter and the commonwealth’s current attorney general. Several public polls had McAuliffe up by double digits coming into the final days of the campaign. Governor Shumlin said the private data he saw predicted it would always be a close race.

“I believe that the voters of Virginia rejected the same radical social agenda that [Florida Republican Gov.] Rick Scott and [Wisconsin Republican Gov.] Scott Walker ... and others have been implementing in their states,” Shumlin said.

Exit polling showed voters’ unhappiness with Obamacare, although it didn't indicate whether the Affordable Care Act was decisive in the Virginia election’s outcome. Data collected by Edison Research found 53 percent of Virginia voters opposed the ACA, and among these opponents, 81 percent voted for Mr. Cuccinelli. Among independent voters, 61 percent in Virginia and 58 percent in New Jersey said they opposed the health-care law.

Politico’s widely read daily Playbook summed up the Virginia results as, “Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe.”

Shumlin has been a leader in pushing health-care reform, and in 2017, Vermont is slated to implement what the Associated Press describes as “the nation’s first universal health care system, a sort of modified Medicare-for-all that has long been a dream for many liberals.” 

At the breakfast, Shumlin argued that the implementation of health-care reform “is going to be a tough road." He continued, "There are going to be potholes that make mud season in Vermont look like a picnic.”

But, he contended, the kinks would be worked out “within the foreseeable few months,” after which “the websites will be working and I believe ... it is going to be extraordinarily popular.”

The DGA chair played down the implications of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s landslide victory in New Jersey over Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono. It is a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 700,000.

“I think the phenomenon of Chris Christie is this simple," Shumlin said. "The people of New Jersey focused on his oversized personality, and it was a referendum on his personality.”

Shumlin brushed off criticism from some Democrats for not investing more in the New Jersey race, in an effort to reduce the size of Governor Christie’s reelection margin – which he is expected to trumpet in a bid for the presidency. Former Obama campaign strategist Ben LaBolt told The Washington Post, “There was a bit of a missed opportunity during the campaign itself." He went on, "At the national level, Governor Christie really got a clean shot at introducing himself, which is unfortunate.”

“My job as chair of the DGA is not to invest money in bruising people,” Shumlin replied. “It is to win Democratic governor's mansions so that we can have governors who focus on jobs and opportunity instead of a right-wing social agenda. So anyone who thinks the DGA should be in the business of bruising people doesn’t understand my job.”

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