Virginia state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli is a pol with a lot of vulnerabilities. He has a reputation as an ideologue. He wrote a book that will give Democrats fodder to paint him as too conservative for a state that has been moving to the center. His record on gay rights is at odds with the ethos of moderate, suburban voters. He has yet to come forward with any specific agenda.
But all of that may be swept away by one great stroke got good luck: He is running against Terry McAuliffe. In 2009, McAuliffe proved to be a clumsy campaigner, vulnerable to claims that, although he lived in Northern Virginia, he had no real ties to the state, preferring the limelight of Clinton-centric national politics. Now he’s caught up in a multi-level flap over his GreenTech automobile venture.
It is not just that he set up shop in another state; it is that he misled voters about the circumstances of his decision to go out of state. He blamed Virginia state officials for rejecting his application, but he never completed the application process.
It is not just that there is a question about whether the visa program GreenTech used was legitimate, it is that GreenTech is suing the watchdog journalists (whose parent is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity) who raised questions.
It is not just that McAuliffe used GreenTech to establish his business credentials, it is that he resigned quietly and was happy to be portrayed for months thereafter as the builder of green technology cars.
And yet the media haven’t really demanded that McAuliffe step forward to explain all this. This does call into question character. Is McAuliffe is a little too slick for his own good?
No wonder Cuccinelli is going full throttle on this nexus of issues. (If he didn’t, the media wouldn’t cover it at all.) In doing so, he has the shreds of an argument for his own candidacy: Whatever his views, he’s been an honest public servant in Virginia for a long time (first in the legislature and then as attorney general). That however is not enough to get through 10 more months of the campaign. He’ll need an actual agenda. He’ll need to deal with his stance on social issues. (Again he’s fortunate now to have an opening to defend his insistence on abortion clinic regulation.)
The temptation to hammer away at McAuliffe is tempting — heck, it worked for President Obama against Mitt Romney — but that would be an error. The media won’t help him as they did Obama. Moreover, McAuliffe’s shortcomings may not be enough to overcome doubts about Cuccinelli’s ideology.
Cuccinelli announced today that he has $3 million cash on hand, much of it raised after the the legislature recessed. He’s got the money; now he needs a message.
The Democrats may be running one of the few people who could lose to Cuccinelli. But Cuccinelli might be one of the few Republicans who could lose to McAuliffe — unless Cuccinelli rounds out his image and gives voters a reason to vote for him.