America's Only Election: The Virginia Gubernatorial Debate

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 25 2013 9:44 PM

America's Only Election: The Virginia Gubernatorial Debate

TYSONS CORNER, Va.—The last competitive elections in America this year are the races for control of Virginia's statewide offices—governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Before the start of tonight's gubernatorial debate, Democrats were telling me that the last of the three races was the only one worth panicking about. They worried that Mark Obenshain, the GOP's nominee for AG, "read" as pretty moderate. The implication: No such problems with Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson, the social conservatives running for the top two jobs.

Terry McAuliffe, the DNC rainmaker-turned-politician, attempted to take advantage of that by swinging every debate topic back to Cuccinelli's social views. "Gridlock, driven by the Tea Party, is once again risking a government shutdown that would be devastating to the Virginia economy," he said. "My opponent has spent most of his career on a social ideological agenda. He has pushed personhood legislation which would outlaw most forms of contraception, would make the pill illegal in Virginia. He bullied the Board of Health that would shut down the woman's health centers. Women are 50 percent of the workforce of the United States of America. You cannot grow an economy by putting walls up around Virginia."

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Cuccinelli's response: playing up his offense at these charges. He helped free Thomas Haynesworth, an innocent man, from prison, and he was proud of the TV ad that informed voters of this. And anyway, McAuliffe was a sleaze. Cuccinelli grasped for chances to point this out, using his final question/answer time to just rattle off the scandals voters needed to know about—the boondoggle electric car venture GreenTech, the Lincoln Bedroom scandal in the Clinton years, being an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a scandal that rocked a Teamsters election.

After the debate, David Bossie of Citizens United (which is running anti-McAuliffe ads here) bemoaned how the moderators never really teed up a question about McAuliffe and GreenTech. Why not the Lincoln Bedroom? "We have new scandals now!" he said. "GreenTech's being investigated by the DHS and SEC!"

Cuccinelli's team seemed to be at a loss on the best anti-McAuliffe tactic. Was it the candidate's refusal to come up with "a price tag" for his education plan? When pressed, McAuliffe insisted that "first you figure out your priorities," then you count. Was it McAuliffe's answer to an odd question about the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage? The questioner asked whether McAuliffe would "lead" on the issue; Cuccinelli pounded and said McAuliffe didn't understand that the governor wouldn't get a vote on it, that a reversal of the ban would move throught the state legislature.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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