Who should be Virginia’s next leader? Richmond newspaper says no one

October 21, 2013

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli talk before a Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in McLean, Va. (AP Photo/The Washington Post, Linda Davidson, Pool)

This is never a good sign: The candidates in Virginia's ugly gubernatorial race are apparently so devoid of potential leadership qualities that the state capital's newspaper is declining to endorse a single one.

The editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in an op-ed published Sunday, wrote that "we cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate for governor. ... This marks, we believe, the first time in modern Virginia that The Times-Dispatch has not endorsed a gubernatorial nominee."

The scathing editorial complains that the move by supporters of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to switch from a primary to a convention system "mocked Cuccinelli’s advertised fealty to first principles" and criticizes Cuccinelli's sharply conservative social views as a "divisive agenda." It bemoans former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe as what's left of a "weak bench" of Democrats. And while the libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, "has neither embarrassed himself nor insulted the commonwealth," the paper says, he "has no experience applicable to the governorship, period." In summary, the op-ed states, "we find it impossible to endorse any of the 2013 candidates with even minimal zeal."

Yikes.

Is this a cop-out given that one of these men will ultimately be governor? Virginia's voters, after all, still have to choose. Or a laudatory rejection of candidates who have waged a race that has included brutal attacks, record-setting cash, and ethics questions on both sides? Neither of the primary party candidates appears to have a management style that is well-suited to the governor's office, either. The Post's Laura Vozzella examines the likely leadership styles of the two primary candidates and finds that political observers find them both lacking: "State government is just too huge for Cucccinelli to micromanage, they say, while a governorship is too important for McAuliffe to breeze through it."

Maybe the Richmond paper wants to avoid having to go back and openly criticize its past endorsements--something the Houston Chronicle did last week with Ted Cruz. More likely, the extraordinary contrast between the two candidates' ideology, policy and experience is so dramatically stark that it's hard for anyone, even a traditionally conservative editorial page, to find either common ground with the candidates or faith in their abilities. Or maybe we've finally reached the troubling nadir of politics where our options for leadership are really so poor that even choosing the lesser of two (or three) evils is a choice no one wants to make. If so, let's hope we don't stay there long.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

How would McAuliffe, Cuccinelli govern Virginia?

A sad commentary on our political leadership

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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