Democrats have sought to peg Cuccinelli as too pugnacious and too conservative for an increasingly purple commonwealth that has frequently supported consensus-building moderates in recent years.
Mark R. Warner (D) and Timothy M. Kaine (D) both won gubernatorial and Senate races following that model. And although Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) — who was notably not invited to address CPAC this year — has a largely conservative record, he ran in 2009 with a clear focus on economic policy rather than potentially divisive social issues.
Cuccinelli, by contrast, has drawn conservative grass-roots support and national media attention for wading into a host of thorny debates. He was an early and vocal critic of President Obama’s health-care plan, filing his own unsuccessful lawsuit to challenge its constitutionality. He advised Virginia’s Board of Health to impose strict new building standards on abortion clinics, and he told Virginia colleges that they could not ban discrimination against gays.
More recently, he has criticized a landmark Virginia transportation plan, backed by McDonnell and passed by a bipartisan coalition in the General Assembly, because it raises taxes to pay for roads. The plan was supported by McAuliffe, who seized on the moment to make the case that he is more willing than Cuccinelli is to reach a compromise across the aisle.
Despite prodding from Democrats, Cuccinelli has not taken a final position on the transportation deal and has not said whether he would seek to undo it if elected governor. His campaign notes that the plan could still be amended.
Cuccinelli made no mention of transportation at CPAC, where he described McAuliffe as an “unabashed liberal” who does the bidding of labor unions and views “power as being more important than principle.”
McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said Cuccinelli’s comments were evidence that he was catering to the fringes of his party.
“Ken Cuccinelli has focused his career on an extreme and divisive ideological agenda, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that after trying to torpedo Governor McDonnell’s bipartisan transportation compromise he would continue to feel most comfortable surrounded by national tea party activists, not mainstream Virginians,” Schwerin said.