It’s Cuccinelli’s status as a sitting attorney general.
From the moment Cuccinelli put aside decades of precedent by not resigning to campaign full time for governor, his dual role as political candidate and Virginia’s top legal counsel has shadowed the race , sometimes in helpful ways , sometimes as a hindrance.
Cuccinelli has been able to use the office to portray himself as a champion fighting for the commonwealth, whether by arguing the innocence of a wrongly convicted prisoner or announcing another victory against Medicaid fraud.
But by holding onto his post, Cuccinelli also has complicated his campaign by creating real and apparent conflicts of interest. He has opened himself up repeatedly to accusations by his opponents that his political aspirations had an impact on his legal duties. These include his office’s role in complex litigation over natural gas royalties in southwest Virginia, a tax dispute involving a wealthy donor whose gifts tarnished Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and a fight over purging thousands of names from voter rolls.
The advantages and disadvantages of Cuccinelli’s position were apparent on a single day this month. First, he announced triumphantly that his office had negotiated a $37 million Medicaid fraud settlement with McKesson on allegations that the pharmaceutical wholesaler had inflated the prices of prescription drugs.
But that same day, the Democratic Party of Virginia went to federal court arguing that the Virginia State Board of Elections had wrongly purged 57,000 names from voter rolls. The Democrats’ lawsuit named Cuccinelli as a co-defendant and noted that he had a “direct personal interest” in its outcome.
“It’s just another conflict of interest for Attorney General Cuccinelli,” said Lauren Harmon, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
In the end, the federal judge rebuffed the Democrats, saying there was no evidence that election officials improperly removed the names of people who had moved out of state.
Daniel Palazzolo, a professor of political science at the University of Richmond, said Cuccinelli’s decision to remain in office has probably not made much of a difference in the race, except to distract the candidate from fundraising or burnish his reputation for sticking to principle even when it costs him support.
“I do think he’s a maverick,” Palazzolo said.
But Robert N. Roberts, a political science professor at James Madison University, said Cuccinelli’s staying in office has harmed him more than it’s helped.
“The fact that he’s been an activist attorney general has helped him with his base. It hurts him if he tries to move to the center,” Roberts said.
Trailing in polls
With just about a week to go before the Nov. 5 election , Cuccinelli trails McAuliffe, a McLean businessman who has never held elective office, in all recent polls.
Cuccinelli remained in office partly because he is not wealthy and his family relies on his approximately $157,000-a-year salary. Cuccinelli also has pointed out that no other state has a tradition of attorneys general resigning to seek higher office — an assertion backed up by PolitiFact Virginia , which traced the custom to 1957.