Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe sparred in the second of three debates Wednesday night in the race for Virginia governor. McAuliffe argued that Cuccinelli had extreme positions on social issues and ethical lapses for accepting gifts from a Republican donor. Cuccinelli countered that McAuliffe was a Washington insider with a history of questionable ethics who was too inexperienced to govern.
McAuliffe helped make Cuccinelli’s point when he promised to sign a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage in Virginia. Cuccinelli quickly countered that constitutional amendments don’t go to the governor’s desk for approval. “Folks, governor is not a good entry-level job,” he said. “But, that’s what it would be with Terry.”
“I’m the only candidate in this race who won’t need on-the-job training,” Cuccinelli reiterated at another point.
Like his campaign, McAuliffe spent a large amount of his debate time criticizing what he said were Cuccinelli’s extreme views on social issues. Even on questions unrelated to these issues, McAuliffe tried to paint his opponent as a foot-soilder in the mythical “War on Women.” “There are consequences to this mean-spirit attack on women’s health, on gay Virginians,” he said. “If we’re going to build a new economy in Virginia, we’re going to do it by bringing everyone together.”
Cuccinelli countered by trying to soften his image and recounted his work with the homeless, mentally ill and combating sexual abuse on campuses. He said that while people may not always agree with his position, they will understand why he holds that position.
There were no “game-changers,” no obvious gaffes or missteps by either candidate. One questioner asked McAuliffe about the price-tag for his long list of promised initiatives, but he deflected the question. He dodged 5 follow-up questions on it from moderator Chuck Todd.
Cuccinelli seemed to be running a ‘prevent defense’ through most of the debate. When the issue of gun control came up, he answered that we needed to do more for mental health. He did not press McAuliffe on his stated support of sweeping gun control legislation.
Cuccinelli also didn’t question McAuliffe about his support for climate change policies that would cripple Virginia’s coal industry. Coal is a vital part of the Commonwealth economy and policies McAuliffe supports would bring further distress to large part of southern Virginia.
Only once did Cuccinelli press McAuliffe on his past ethical lapses. In response to a question about his own ethics controversy, Cuccinelli retorted, “[i]t’s pretty rich to have the guy who rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, sold seats on Air Force One, was an unindicted coconspirator in a Teamsters election law money laundering case be talking about ethics now.”
Cuccinelli also only made one, slight reference to the controversy surrounding McAuliffe’s involvement in GreenTech Automotive. He mentioned that McAuliffe’s company is under an SEC investigation. In his closing remarks, however, he touched on the fact that GreenTech relied on funding from Chinese investors.
The next debate is at the end of October at Virginia Tech University. Polling shows McAuliffe with a small, but steady lead in the race. Cuccinelli will have to come out swinging harder in that debate if he is going to reverse McAuliffe’s lead. Another performance like Wednesday will leave a lot of Republican base voters unenthused.