Last night, the Virginia gubernatorial candidates squared off again in their second-to-last debate before the November election. Republican Ken Cuccinelli turned in a strong performance while Democrat Terry McAuliffe struggled to keep up.
From the outset, McAuliffe’s attacks were on the Attorney General’s personal character and belief system while Cuccinelli’s attacks seemed to focus more on McAuliffe’s actions. Neither candidate was above throwing the occasional low blow. But the Attorney General’s commanding mastery of the issues and poise throughout the night sent a message that this man is ready to lead. Conversely, McAuliffe seemed to be looking in bizarre directions throughout the night as he struggled to remember his talking points. The Attorney General exuded youth and competence while the McAuliffe seemed to embody desperation. Oddly, the poise of the candidates did not seem to reflect recent polling data.
Chuck Todd, the evening’s moderator, repeatedly attempted to obtain an answer from Mr. McAuliffe on how he intended on raising teaching salaries as he promised. He was unable to back up his previous assertions and finally admitted that he may not be able to raise wages. Strangely, he stated that if Ken Cuccinelli was able to get the corporate tax rate down a couple of percentage points to 4%, “thousands” of teachers may be laid off. The connection of a more favorable tax rate to teacher layoffs was lost on many observers.
At the end of the evening, the candidates were asked if Virginia should consider allowing students to return to school earlier in the summer to allow them to be more competitive. McAuliffe actually bested Cuccinelli on this question when he pointed out that this had the potential to harm tourism in the Commonwealth and stated that there were better ways to make up lost time, actually providing examples. Meanwhile, Cuccinelli appealed to the cause of “the children.”
Bizarrely, McAuliffe could not give the moderator a number as to how much his education reforms would cost, saying only that Medicaid expansion, which faces legislative hurdles in the House of Delegates, would cover it. Both candidates talked a lot about Medicaid expansion but didn’t really scratch the surface of resulting consequences.
McAuliffe repeatedly attacked the Attorney General for his plan to reduce taxes, especially corporate taxes. Cuccinelli deftly responded by laying out the competitive sales taxes that some in Maryland are pursuing and the fact that North Carolina has now significantly undercut Virginia’s corporate tax. The interest that Virginia has in luring new jobs to the state greatly outweighs the hypothetical danger McAuliffe alluded to.
Second Amendment supporters were no doubt disturbed by McAuliffe’s rigid ideological gun agenda. He touted his belief in “universal” background checks, because some people can purchase guns on the internet and he doubled-down on his interest in banning assault-style rifles from being sold and purchased in Virginia. McAuliffe laid on an emotional appeal to restrict gun rights to avoid more shooting tragedies.
But the Attorney General was more than capable of handling a similar question. Cuccinelli acknowledged that massive shooting deaths always seemed to be tied to mental health patients and that he has helped Virginia become the number one state in America, per capita of scanning out mentally ill patients from purchasing firearms through state background checks.
The Attorney General also pointed out that McAuliffe has an F rating from the NRA, which is lower than any other candidate for statewide office this year.
Surprisingly, Chuck Todd did not spend a lot of time discussing Cuccinelli’s ideology. In response to a relevant question, Cuccinelli stated that while he had a few personal beliefs that were dear to him, the majority of his time has been and will be focused on jobs and the economy.
Later on, he drove home this point when he discussed Terry McAuliffe’s unscrupulous attempts to pick up votes by insisting that there are certain laws that he would choose not to defend. This is in line with the Obama Administration’s Justice Department refusing to defend DOMA at the federal level. Cuccinelli argued that as Attorney General he had defended all of our laws, even the ones he didn’t agree with. He also mentioned his fight as Attorney General to free a man falsely accused and sentenced to prison and his fight against sex trafficking. Many observers have since noted that Cuccinelli likely seeks to make up a large deficit with women voters.
Terry McAuliffe understandably wanted to focus the night on the $18k in gifts that Ken Cuccinelli had received from J. Williams, the man involved in the $150k scandal with the Governor. Cuccinelli explained that he had given that much money to charity to help eliminate the appearance of impropriety and that a Democrat Commonwealth Attorney had cleared him of any wrongdoing.
In a humanizing moment against the millionaire McAuliffe, Cuccinelli mentioned that coming up with $18,000 had not been an easy task for his large family.
The Attorney General also reminded viewers that he had called a press conference to highlight the gifts to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Meanwhile, McAuliffe continues to withhold tax records and be associated with business partners under federal investigation.
Following ethical attacks from Terry McAuliffe, the Attorney General admonished voters to see that it wasn’t staff or operatives that were behind the unprecedented negative statewide campaign being run by the Democrat’s campaign, but Terry McAuliffe himself.
At the end of the night, viewers were left with the unmistakable feeling that there was only one man that was competent on Virginia’s legal issues and had thought out all the relevant topics. McAuliffe’s conclusion focused again on his opponent’s social views while the Attorney General focused on helping Virginians. At times, Cuccinelli seemed to embarrass McAuliffe for his lack of knowledge between Constitutional amendments and statutes in the Virginia system. All in all, Cuccinelli got the best of the night and he can only hope that his performance bumps him up with women voters at the polls.