McAuliffe (D) dubbed Cuccinelli a conservative zealot on issues including gay rights and abortion and unsuited to govern the increasingly moderate commonwealth, while Cuccinelli (R) called McAuliffe a “Washington insider” with little understanding of the state and its voters.
From the start, Cuccinelli accused McAuliffe of looking out only for himself.
“Instead of putting Virginians first, you put Terry first, a common theme for you,” Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe called Cuccinelli the “true Trojan horse of Virginia politics.” “You come in pretending to be one thing, and you end up being something else,” he said.
The debate, sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association at the Homestead Resort, comes as the contest enters a crucial stage. Many Virginians still know little about either candidate, and both campaigns are preparing for the brighter glare that will come from debates and an increase in television advertising in the run-up to the November election.
The national spotlight has also shifted to the commonwealth, because of the high-profile gifts scandal that has engulfed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and because — with New Jersey’s gubernatorial race unlikely to be competitive — Virginia is the only political game around in this off-year election.
Although McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have stark differences on policy, much of the debate focused on the personal — continuing what has been a largely negative, character-focused battle.
Cuccinelli has been dogged by his ties to Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the Star Scientific chief executive whose gifts to McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, are being investigated.
Republicans, in turn, have painted McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, as a professional fundraiser with a history of questionable or unsuccessful businesses and scant knowledge of Virginia government. Cuccinelli has been especially critical of GreenTech, the electric car company that McAuliffe co-founded, because it considered placing a factory in Southside Virginia but chose to put it in Mississippi instead after getting a generous incentive package from that state’s government.
McAuliffe said that Cuccinelli had spent four years pursuing a “social, ideological agenda” and that the Republican had broken past campaign promises to focus on economic issues. McAuliffe also reiterated his argument that Cuccinelli’s conservative policies on such issues as women’s health and gay rights would drive businesses from the state.
“In order to grow the economy, we’ve got to make Virginia an open and welcoming state,” McAuliffe said.