Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Virginia State News

September 23, 2013

Cuccinelli at crossroads: Can his luck continue?

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — For as tough a slog as Ken Cuccinelli’s Republican campaign for governor has had for several weeks, last week couldn’t have been more different — by comparison, a charmed glide on gilded rails.

He won a major endorsement that Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe coveted. A new poll showed McAuliffe’s August lead cut in half. And Cuccinelli avoided exposure to virulent mid-October headlines from a theft trial that he initiated against the governor’s former chef because the case was settled Wednesday. It was enough to make McAuliffe’s continued fundraising dominance seem less worrisome.

Now, the question is whether Cuccinelli’s campaign capitalizes on the momentary lift and makes it the pivot point in a race that has yet to find its legs.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council endorsement can be huge in easing the perception that Cuccinelli’s conservative activism on issues like abortion and gay rights would scare away business. But if the endorsement were a magic talisman, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore would have been Virginia’s governor.

“It wasn’t as big a deal when they endorsed me,” Kilgore, now a Richmond lawyer, said Friday. “Back then, everybody just shrugged and went on about the campaign. But that was probably because I already had support within the business community.”

Kilgore, like Cuccinelli, had been attorney general and secretary of public safety. Kilgore served under former Gov. George Allen. Kilgore’s low-tax, small-government approach wore well with the NVTC’s pro-business conservatives. He lost the 2005 governor’s race to Democrat Tim Kaine by nearly 6 percentage points.

Cuccinelli, however, was regarded with caution and even trepidation by some within the NVTC over actions he had taken as attorney general. His office had launched a two-year inquisition into a former University of Virginia climate scientist and his research into global warming until the Supreme Court shut it down. He had advised presidents of Virginia’s state-supported colleges and universities that they could not unilaterally impose anti-discrimination policies to protect gay faculty and students until Gov. Bob McDonnell, a fellow Republican, countermanded him.

McAuliffe warned that those actions, along with Cuccinelli’s career-long support of efforts to restrict access to abortion and his opposition to this year’s bipartisan transportation funding reform law, made Cuccinelli a threat to Virginia’s pro-business environment.

But when interviews with TechPAC’s trustees were done, a majority was persuaded by Cuccinelli’s more detailed discussion of business and technology policy than McAuliffe’s to put aside his conservative activism and endorse him.

The reaction from some McAuliffe allies was fast and furious.

“The pressure is hot and heavy,” TechPAC chairman Dendy Young wrote in an email Sunday to the PAC’s fellow trustees. Among those from whom he said he had received communication expressing concern about the vote were Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, who’s still sore that Cuccinelli secured the GOP gubernatorial nomination that he had also sought.

Democratic state Sen. Janet D. Howell of Fairfax County wrote in an email to Young and others that she found the endorsement “incomprehensible” and that the response by Senate Democrats to the NVTC — which has never endorsed a Democrat for governor — “will be frigid and doors will be closed.”

Cuccinelli called it a naked attempt by McAuliffe to bully and intimidate the NVTC, and argues that it’s the sort of bare-knuckle coercion politics the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clinton White House insider would practice if elected.

McAuliffe said Wednesday that he knew nothing about efforts to browbeat TechPAC on his behalf.

Bobbie Kilberg, the president and CEO of the NVTC, said neither McAuliffe or anyone from his campaign “has engaged me in a bullying or threatening way.” But she acknowledged that “what some of his supporters — and I’m not naming names — have engaged in has been unfortunate.”

Kilgore thinks Cuccinelli should use the opportunity to shore up the perception that he’s “thoughtful and well-versed on the issues and ready to listen to people’s concerns.”

“His narrative the next few weeks has to be that even if you can’t always agree with Ken Cuccinelli, you will at least know where he stands,” said Kilgore, who has worked for four Republican presidents.

But that won’t be easy among a Virginia electorate that, according to fresh polling, doesn’t much like or trust either major party candidate.

One major opportunity, however, is two days away.

Wednesday presents the most auspicious venue of the entire campaign for Cuccinelli to validate such a perception — or for McAuliffe to destroy it and retake the momentum.

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate has produced dramatic and decisive moments in three statewide elections since 2005, and the stakes are extraordinarily high this year in a neck-and-neck race that is the nation’s only competitive governor’s election.

It’s the first of three debates in this campaign to air live in prime time in the vote-rich Washington, D.C., suburbs and other major political battlegrounds where the election will be decided. A final debate, set for Oct. 24, was announced last week.

 

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