“Grab the popcorn,” Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s team announced in an e-mail to reporters just after noon, promising the “World Premiere” of a video with a “new reminder” of McAuliffe’s “lack of Virginia knowledge.” Route 58, the Republicans insisted, is already four lanes.
“Welcome to Virginia, Terry,” the video proclaims.
McAuliffe’s team, in its own e-mail at 1:41 p.m., dismissed the film as “false” and accused Cuccinelli of caring “more about attacking his opponent than he does about the truth.”
The Republicans weren’t finished: “McAuliffe’s Route 58 blunder” was the title of their next attack at 4:20 p.m.; McAuliffe’s “Route 58 mess” arrived at 8:06 p.m. More than eight hours after the spat began, McAuliffe’s spokesman tweeted: “Still marveling at the amazing swing and miss from the Cuccinelli campaign today.”
Even by the standards of modern political combat, the race to succeed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is an ugly contest between two candidates who are devoting vast resources to disparaging each other as unsuited for the job.
Every day, it seems, Cuccinelli’s forces find ways to portray McAuliffe as an unethical and unprincipled carpetbagger, a political opportunist who doesn’t possess the government experience or knowledge of Virginia needed for the state’s top job.
At the same time, McAuliffe’s team pounces at the chance to depict Cuccinelli as a conservative zealot who is anti-gay and anti-woman and whose views on social issues are too extreme for a state evolving into a hub of cosmopolitan life.
Beginning more than six months before the election, the campaign’s unyielding ferocity — displayed at the candidates’ first debate, in television and Internet ads, and through e-mail and Twitter — is eclipsing what they say about the economy, health care and education.
“Where’s the meat in the campaign?” asked former governor L. Douglas Wilder (D). “They both need to repair the perceptions of them in the general public. But you don’t repair it by tearing the other guy down.”
Voters “are sick of it,” Wilder said. “They want to know what you’re going to do about the economy, jobs, spending. How are you going to make governance better? You don’t hear that. You hear negatives — Boom! Boom!”
Time magazine proclaimed the race “The Dirtiest, Nastiest, Low-Down Campaign in America,” one that has drawn comparisons to the polarization of the U.S. Congress and the 2012 presidential contest.
“We’re looking at the Washingtonization of Virginia politics,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington professor. “The nasty partisan attacks, the astonishing gridlock that marks the nation’s capital is increasingly the shape of Virginia, as well.