Conservatives Rip Virginia GOP Effort, But Kept Their Wallets Stowed

Tea Party groups are blaming tight-fisted mainstream Republicans for a close loss in Virginia's gubernatorial race. But many of the most vocal critics never gave the GOP candidate a dime.

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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Ken Cuccinelli arrives to greet voters at a polling place at Smith Station Elementary School in Spotsylvania, Va., Nov. 5, 2013.

Since Republicans lost Virginia’s gubernatorial election Nov. 5, conservative and Tea Party groups have rushed to pin the blame on the party’s establishment, which reduced its financial support in the final weeks of the race. More money, they argue, may have made the difference in Ken Cuccinelli’s close loss to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

“There are a lot of questions people are going to be asking and that is, was leaving Cuccinelli alone in the first week of October, a smart move,”  Cuccinelli strategist Chris La Civita told the Washington Post shortly after the election. “We were on our own. Just look at the volume [of ads].”

One fact is undoubtedly true: the GOP establishment didn’t do all it could to help Cuccinelli as he was perennially down in the polls. His conservative social positions alienated some donors, while business groups like the Chamber of Commerce decided to sit out the race. Early in the cycle, the Republican National Committee said it would focus on its field game instead of television advertising, meaning in 2013 it spent one-third of what it did in 2009 to help elect current Gov. Bob McDonnell. (Spending by the Republican Governors Association, on the other hand, was up compared to 2009.)

But many of the most vocal critics of mainstream Republicans never actually contributed to Cuccinelli’s campaign.

In an email to supporters in the days before the election, the National Organization for Marriage blasted national Republicans and warned that a Cuccinelli defeat would be used to marginalize the conservative grassroots. Yet the organization spent under $2,000 on this year’s race, according to the latest Virginia campaign finance reports.

The Tea Party Patriots, another leading grassroots conservative organization, was similarly critical of party leaders. “Because the Republican establishment cut funding to its own candidate by two thirds from the 2009 election they robbed the people of Virginia of the good governor they almost had,” Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s national coordinator, said in a statement last week. “Over the past several weeks Terry McAuliffe has been campaigning with Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Government, yet the GOP establishment rather than come to the aid of Cuccinelli, left him out hanging to drive[sic].” Neither the Tea Party Patriots nor Martin appear in campaign finance records as having given to Cuccinelli.

Rush Limbaugh said the GOP “betrayed” Cuccinelli and fellow conservative radio personality Mark Levin called it “RINO sabotage,” a derisive reference to moderates considered “Republicans in name only.” Neither man is listed as a donor in Cuccinelli’s campaign filings.

The same pattern held for other establishment critics. “The truth is, the national GOP establishment left a man on the battlefield by having Ken Cuccinelli fend off the liberal Clinton juggernaut of Terry McAuliffe alone,” Todd Cefaratti, the founder of, said in statement Wednesday. Cefaratti did not give money to Cuccinelli, according to finance records.

Senator Ted Cruz, the firebrand Texas Republican whose orchestration of the government shutdown enraged many leaders of his party, did campaign with Cuccinelli. Jason Johnson, a Cruz strategist, echoed the conservative analysis of the election, writing on Red State that “had the D.C. Establishment not abandoned Cuccinelli, leaving him with no money and attacking him themselves, more Republicans would have shown up and Cuccinelli would likely have won.” Yet Cruz did not donate to Cuccinelli, either.