About 40 students — some dropping in from other political science classes — crowded into a fourth-floor classroom to hear the two candidates speak in back-to-back appearances. Cuccinelli stood behind the lectern and mostly stuck to the topic of his education plan. McAuliffe walked more freely around the room and touched on most of his campaign talking points, hitting topics such as transportation spending and Medicaid expansion.
Wilder quizzed the students about their impressions of the candidates afterward, and they seemed to agree that Cuccinelli came off as “subdued” and McAuliffe seemed “effervescent,” as Wilder put it.
Wilder kept his own views to himself. He said he expects to eventually endorse someone in the race, but he was waiting for one of the candidates to put “more meat on the bone” — explaining what he “can do and . . . how you’re going to do it.”
Dhara Amin, 24, a graduate student studying criminal justice, came to the class with an open mind and said she remained undecided afterward.
“I’m just glad I have a few more weeks,” she said.
Earlier in the day, McAuliffe also appeared at Little Ambassadors’ Academy in Arlington, where he offered details about how he would pay for his education proposals.
After chatting with 4-year-olds about their favorite superhero (Iron Man) and before reading aloud from “How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?,” McAuliffe said boosting early childhood development centers such as Little Ambassadors’ — where the wait list stretches into 2016 — was a key education priority, along with reforming the Standards of Learning, boosting teacher pay and improving job training at Virginia’s community colleges.
“The question that’s always important to ask — I know politicians always like to make promises — is how do you pay for it?” McAuliffe said.
Unlike Cuccinelli, McAuliffe supports expanding Medicaid. Under President Obama’s health-care plan, the federal government would pay the lion’s share of the costs, and McAuliffe said the expansion would free up money in the state budget that could be used for education.
“If the Medicaid expansion doesn’t go through, I think we have tremendous challenges we’re facing,” McAuliffe said later. Asked whether tax increases would be “on the table” to pay for education, he said, “No.”
Cuccinelli has said he would not support Medicaid expansion unless a series of reforms are made to the program and Virginia is given more control over how it is run. The two candidates strongly differ on whether expansion would cost or save money for the state. And Cuccinelli has also cast doubt on whether the federal government would continue to pick up the tab over the long term, potentially leaving Virginia with huge bills to pay.