Ad in Va. governor’s race spotlights Cuccinelli fight to clear wrongly convicted man

A new ad for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli tells the story of his role in the case of Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison for rapes he did not commit. (Ken Cuccinelli for Governor)

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s gubernatorial campaign is launching an ad Tuesday highlighting his evolving views on crime and casting the conservative Republican as a compassionate lawman who fought to clear a wrongly convicted man.

The ad tells the story of Cuccinelli’s role in the case of Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison for rapes he did not commit. After DNA testing cleared Haynesworth in two sexual assaults, Cuccinelli and two state prosecutors championed Haynesworth’s case, pushing to obtain a “writ of actual innocence” for him even in two cases where no genetic testing was possible. Cuccinelli also gave Haynesworth a clerical job in the attorney general’s office after his release from prison.

“The attorney general’s job is not convictions,” Cuccinelli says in the ad. “Today, we got justice.”

Haynesworth, who also appears on camera, says he never would have imagined that the attorney general would take a personal interest in his case.

“He didn’t have to get involved. But he said an injustice was done, and he was trying to correct it,” Haynesworth says. “To me, he’s a hell of a guy.”

With the Virginia governor’s race set to quicken its pace after the Labor Day weekend, Cuccinelli’s campaign wants to show a different side of the candidate than the one portrayed by his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe, a businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman who lives in McLean, has focused on depicting Cuccinelli as an extremist whose socially conservative agenda is out of step with Virginia. Cuccinelli has sought to soften his conservative image while portraying McAuliffe as a slick-talking and ethically challenged party operative whose business successes have been mostly imaginary.

Polls show that McAuliffe has taken a lead. They also show that many Virginians still know little about the men and that what is known has contributed to negative perceptions of both.

A recent Quinnipiac University survey found that 35 percent of likely voters had a favorable view of Cuccinelli, while 41 percent gave him an unfavorable rating and 22 percent were undecided. The same survey found that 34 percent had a favorable view of McAuliffe, 33 percent had an unfavorable view, and 31 percent were unsure.

Cuccinelli has attracted national attention as an activist attorney general, becoming the first to challenge the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, demanding records from a climate researcher at the University of Virginia, issuing an opinion that upheld stricter regulations for abortion clinics and beating back the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to regulate stormwater runoff in Fairfax County. The commonwealth’s inspector general also is investigating whether a deputy in Cuccinelli’s office improperly collaborated with energy companies in a dispute over gas royalties in southwest Virginia.

Haynesworth’s case was the first in which the state issued such a writ in a rape case without the certainty of DNA evidence. But Cuccinelli and the state prosecutors concluded that Haynesworth had been mistakenly connected to a 1984 rape.

Here is the ad’s script:

Cuccinelli: “In late 2010, a Democrat commonwealth’s attorney told me that he had this case that he thought I should take a look at.

“And he said, ‘Look, I think this guy might be innocent.’ ”

Haynesworth: “I never thought that the attorney general himself would be involved in a case like this.”

Cuccinelli: “After going through all of the evidence, I was convinced that Thomas Haynesworth was innocent. And I took that case on myself.”

Haynesworth: “He didn’t have to get involved. But he said an injustice was done and he was trying to correct it.”

News anchor 1: “Thomas Haynesworth was released from prison this week.”

News anchor 2: “Convicted on several rape charges despite his innocence.”

News anchor 3: “Spent 27 years behind bars for crimes he did not commit.”

Cuccinelli: “The attorney general’s job is not convictions. It’s justice. And today, we got justice.”

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