Chris LaCivita, a Cuccinelli campaign consultant, said the candidate is addressing issues that are relevant to a gubernatorial race and brushed aside the suggestion that the attorney general needs to recast himself.
“Ken doesn’t change who he is philosophically, but at the same time, when you run for governor, your issue portfolio greatly expands, and that expansion is what this campaign is about,” LaCivita said, referring to Cuccinelli’s focus on the economy.
“Some people say that’s moving to the middle, and they can characterize it any way they choose,” he said. “We characterize it as a winning strategy. We don’t apologize or change positions. You don’t run away from who you are.”
In March, the RNC issued a report urging party members to “change our tone,” embrace “comprehensive immigration reform,” and reach out to younger voters and minorities, including gays, women, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.
“When it comes to social issues,” the RNC advised in its report, “the party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming.”
To many Republicans, Cuccinelli’s candidacy in what is now the country’s only competitive statewide race of 2013 is a test of the RNC’s new message, and it could have implications for how the GOP campaigns across the country.
“You can be a social conservative — you can be hard core, but how you talk about it matters,” said Michael Steele, the RNC’s former chairman. “If voters feel alienated or threatened by your views, that will be a problem.”
Referring to Cuccinelli, Steele said: “Just because he’s conservative doesn’t mean he’s out of the mainstream. I’m not going to allow anyone to paint Ken as outside the party.”
Not all Republicans agree on that point.
Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and now an MSNBC host, cited Cuccinelli’s statements on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security to describe him as having “said more things that will offend the voters that swing elections than is humanly possible.”
Cuccinelli, Scarborough said during a February broadcast, is “certifiable when it comes to mainstream political thought.”
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican who considered running against Cuccinelli for the GOP nomination, said the attorney general’s challenge is that “large numbers” of voters “view him as too extreme.”
Despite Cuccinelli’s recent focus on the economy, Bolling said, “I’ve seen little indication that he wants to redefine himself. Most of what he has done in the early months seems to indicate he intends to double down on the ideologies of the most conservative wing of the Republican Party.”