The Fairfax Chamber of Commerce voted to endorse Terry McAuliffe for Virginia governor Thursday, a crucial win for the Democrat as he and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II battle for the support of the business community.
The group also decided to back state Sen. Ralph S. Northam (Norfolk) for lieutenant governor and state Sen. Mark R. Herring (Loudoun) for attorney general — a clean sweep for Democrats two weeks after another key organization, the Northern Virginia Technology Council, delivered a more mixed verdict.
The NVTC’s TechPac endorsed Cuccinelli, giving a needed boost to the Republican at a time when he is trailing in the polls and the financial race. Cuccinelli quickly made the TechPac move a central part of his message, calling McAuliffe unserious and unable to speak fluently about policy issues. McAuliffe allies tried unsuccessfully to persuade the group to change its mind.
But the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce’s NOVABizPAC took a different tack, putting a particular emphasis — based on the group’s statement announcing the decision — on Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell’s sweeping transportation funding package. The measure, a top priority for the Northern Virginia business community, was backed by McAuliffe and opposed by Cuccinelli. The same was true of the Silver Line Metro extension to Dulles International Airport.
“In terms of the priorities of the Northern Virginia business community, Mr. McAuliffe’s policy positions and proposals closely align,” said Jim Corcoran, the Fairfax Chamber president and chief executive and NOVABizPAC trustee. “Mr. McAuliffe was a major supporter of Governor McDonnell’s landmark transportation funding legislation and a consistent supporter of rail to Dulles. He has also vocalized his opposition to mandatory project labor agreements and he has vowed to veto any attempt to chip away at Virginia’s long-standing right-to-work laws.”
McAuliffe said in a campaign statement that he was “honored” to have the group’s endorsement and would “work in a bipartisan way to strengthen education, transportation infrastructure, and workforce development, so we can keep Virginia competitive in the 21st Century.”
Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix noted that the Republican has the backing of the TechPAC as well as the National Federation of Independent Business.
“Ken Cuccinelli has secured a significant number of endorsements from key business groups across the commonwealth because he’s the only candidate with a credible, substantive plan that will create 58,000 jobs and ensure our young people can make immediate contributions in the workforce,” Nix said.
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have aggressively courted the commonwealth’s business community. In addition to his backing of transportation initiatives, McAuliffe has touted his endorsement by some normally Republican business leaders, while painting Cuccinelli’s positions on social issues such as abortion and gay rights as bad for job creation.
“My opponent talks a lot about experience,” McAuliffe said at Wednesday night’s debate in McLean, which was sponsored by the Fairfax Chamber. “But his experience has been in dividing people by pursuing his own ideological agenda.”
Cuccinelli, in turn, has emphasized his deep knowledge of state government and public policy issues, saying he won’t need “on-the-job training” as governor.
Cuccinelli pointed out at the debate that, as The Washington Post reported, some NVTC officials thought that McAuliffe was superficial and uninformed during his interviews with the group. Democratic officials, including Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.) and some state legislators, sought to lobby TechPAC to change its mind before the endorsement was announced.
“He doesn’t know how Virginia government works,” Cuccinelli said at the debate. “This came out in the NVTC Tech PAC interviews. And it wouldn’t have if he didn’t try to bully them out of their endorsement. But he did. And so there was reporting on it. And people noted that I understood the issues, and he didn’t.”
The NOVABizPAC backed Jerry Kilgore (R) for governor in 2005 and McDonnell in 2009 but endorsed Steve Shannon (D) that year for attorney general over Cuccinelli. This year, the group picked Herring over state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg).
Scott McGeary, the PAC’s chairman, said Herring “has been a leader on a number of key business issues important to the Fairfax Chamber including his commitment to Virginia’s right-to-work laws, Governor McDonnell’s landmark transportation funding plan and economic development initiatives.”
The business group typically does not endorse in the lieutenant governor’s race but decided to weigh in this year — choosing Northam over Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson (R) — because the evenly divided state Senate has given the position a much more important role. “The trustees of NOVABizPAC voted to endorse Senator Northam because of his experience serving in the Senate and his support for the Fairfax Chamber’s legislative priorities,” McGeary said.