The race for Virginia governor enters a more substantive phase this week, as businessman Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II begin to lay out specific visions of what they would do if they got the job.
After months of work building up campaign infrastructures and attacking each other’s ethics, both candidates are emphasizing policy. McAuliffe (D) spent Sunday and Monday at a series of events officially launching his campaign and framing an agenda on job creation, education and transportation. And Cuccinelli (R) plans to unveil a proposal to revamp the state’s tax system Tuesday.
The policy rollouts come as both candidates introduce themselves to voters. A new Washington Post poll shows that 70 percent of Virginia voters know little or nothing about McAuliffe and his qualifications, while 52 percent said the same of Cuccinelli. Both campaigns began airing their first TV ads last week, and the spots focused on their families and biographies.
“There’s still a lot of defining to do,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes gubernatorial races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Biography is one way to do that, but policy is another.”
Both candidates say jobs and the economy will be their top priority, and the Post poll suggests that is also the most important topic for voters by a wide margin.
McAuliffe has been touring the state’s community colleges in recent weeks, touting the importance of education and job-training programs. He hit that theme again Monday at the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park in Richmond, where he was joined by Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.) and Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones (D). Standing under his slogan, “Putting Jobs First,” McAuliffe emphasized the importance of the state’s 23 community colleges as part of Virginia’s economic success.
“They are on the front lines . . . preparing our workers for jobs, to retool their skills for new jobs and to attract new employers to the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said. “I would have no higher priority for the next four years than to make community colleges the engine of workforce development here in Virginia.”
Beyond education, McAuliffe’s policy blueprint calls for targeted business incentive programs and diversifying the state’s economic base. On transportation, McAuliffe wants to prioritize which projects get funded, speed up road and bridge maintenance, boost passenger rail and keep the Port of Virginia from being privatized.
McAuliffe will continue his series of campaign-launch events Tuesday in Roanoke and Danville, Wednesday in Bristol and Thursday in Arlington, where he will be joined by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.).
Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix said the Republican “looks forward to contrasting his record of fighting for middle-class families — be it through lower taxes, greater government accountability and access to more and better jobs — versus Terry McAuliffe’s abysmal jobs failures.” She cited the economic performance of two companies founded by McAuliffe, GreenTech and Franklin Pellets.
Cuccinelli will unveil his tax proposal Tuesday morning at a frozen yogurt shop in Richmond and plans more policy rollouts in coming weeks. Cuccinelli’s campaign has not revealed details of the tax plan, but the attorney general has long advocated lower rates and smaller government. (McAuliffe released his own, narrower proposal for local tax reform last week after early word of Cuccinelli’s plan appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s Web site.)
The “Issues” section of Cuccinelli’s campaign Web site includes a few paragraphs each on a handful of policy issues and does not offer many specific proposals. Earlier versions of the site included sections on immigration, abortion and gun policy that were removed and have not been replaced.
On the stump, Cuccinelli has spoken primarily before friendly audiences at local GOP gatherings and campaign office openings. He has spoken broadly about his conservative philosophy and sharply criticized McAuliffe but hasn’t typically delved into policy specifics.
At an appearance before the Chesterfield County Republican Committee last week, Cuccinelli said he was counting on activists to approach voters and help them understand how their philosophical devotion to the “first principles” enshrined in the U.S. Constitution apply to everyday issues.
“The principles of 1776 are universal and timeless,” he said. “They apply everywhere, all the time, no exceptions. Our job is to articulate one policy area at a time that the voter you’re standing in front of cares about, and [explain] how they [apply].”
Cuccinelli said that he saw job creation, education, college affordability and transportation as priorities.
“Focus on job creation — and we don’t mean government-created jobs, we mean the private sector creating jobs,” he said. “Which brings up one of the big differences in this race. My opponent will talk about job creation, too. . . . He wants government in there. That’s his idea about how job creation should take place, because he’s so good at picking winners and losers. My idea of government’s role in job creation is to get the heck out of your way.”
McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin dismissed Cuccinelli’s forthcoming plan as an “economic press release.”
“While Terry has been traveling around Virginia gathering mainstream ideas to strengthen and diversify Virginia’s economy, Cuccinelli has spent his career focusing on a divisive ideological agenda,” Schwerin said.
Laura Vozzella and Errin Whack contributed to this report from Richmond.