Ken Cuccinelli reflects on losing Virginia’s governor’s race, talks about what’s next

November 18, 2013

Two weeks after losing his bid for Virginia governor, Ken Cuccinelli II said that the failings of the new health-care law will make Sen. Mark R. Warner vulnerable next year in a contest the attorney general did not rule out.

In his first interview since Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated him to become the state’s 72nd governor, Cuccinelli (R) said Monday that although he has no current plans to run, he finds the idea of challenging Warner “tempting” because of the troubled rollout of the federal health-care law, which the Democratic senator supported.

“There is no such thing as an unendangered Democrat who promised, as Mark Warner did, on video, sitting in his Senate office, ‘I would not vote for a health-care plan that doesn’t let you keep health insurance you like,’ ” Cuccinelli said. “Oh, really? You were the tiebreaking vote. . . . Mark Warner’s not going to have a cruise in 2014.”

Cuccinelli made the comment in an hour-long interview with The Washington Post, during which he acknowledged a tactical mistake by his campaign, bemoaned his treatment by the news media and said that McAuliffe and his campaign had “lied their way to this victory.”

“Truth still has a lot of value, but apparently it’s somewhere between zero and $15 million,” he said, referring to the amount by which McAuliffe outspent him.

Republican Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general, lost the governor's race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. (Video courtesy of WRIC)

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy declined to comment.

Since his combative concession speech on election night, the one-term attorney general and former state senator has kept a low profile. He did not make the customary phone call to the winner, and he has not made any public appearances. His chief strategist, Chris LaCivita, has complained that the Republican Governors Association and other GOP donors prematurely stopped giving to Cuccinelli’s campaign at a time when a victory was still possible. That has led some observers to call Cuccinelli a sore loser.

“He doesn’t have anybody to blame but himself,” said state Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). “And he got beat because the voters knew all about him.”

Warner’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Looking rested and casually dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, Cuccinelli sat for an interview at a Manassas restaurant on Battle Street. The location was fitting for someone convinced that the fight against the federal health-care law must go on.

“It needs to be ripped out and undone,” said Cuccinelli, who was the first attorney general in the nation to sue over the law.

Cuccinelli said his narrower-than-expected election margin makes it hard to read any political message into the contest, despite McAuliffe’s effort to cast it as a purple state’s rejection of conservative stances on abortion, gay rights, climate change and the health-care law.

“I got within 21 / 2 points when everything’s stacked against us and we were outspent by $15 million,” Cuccinelli said. “The usual, ‘See, this shows blah,’ hasn’t really been there.”

Cuccinelli said he is deeply disappointed by the loss but happy to be done with the rigors of campaigning.

“I was home for dinner four nights in a row last week,” said the 45-year-old father of seven. “I don’t remember the last time I was home four nights in a row for dinner. I like being home for dinner.”

He said he plans to go back to practicing law, most likely in his own private practice.

Cuccinelli did not echo LaCivita’s criticism of donors who stopped writing checks as public polls showed McAuliffe leading, in some cases by double digits.

“I’m not going to dump on my biggest donor,” he said, referring to the RGA.

But he expressed disappointment that contributors lost faith in his prospects despite internal polls that he said showed the race to be tight.

Cuccinelli said he did not call McAuliffe to congratulate him on his win because of the way the former Democratic National Committee chairman and prolific fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton had conducted his campaign.

Cuccinelli referred specifically to claims the McAuliffe campaign made that the Republican would outlaw common forms of birth control, including the pill. That allegation was based on Cuccinelli’s support for “personhood” legislation, which would have decreed that life begins at conception.

Opponents have said that law could ban certain birth-control pills, which not only prevent ovulation but also prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Cuccinelli said the legislation never threatened birth control because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decades ago that the states have no say over that.

He said his campaign’s biggest mistake was not doing more to fight that claim.

Cuccinelli said the news media intentionally helped McAuliffe get away with lies. “The media was worse than even I had imagined, and I go in with a conservative’s bias against the media to begin with,” he said.

Asked about an instance after a debate, when the media widely reported that McAuliffe had misrepresented the results of a Richmond prosecutor’s review of Cuccinelli’s gift disclosure forms, Cuccinelli said: “Yeah, that one was jumped on. What about the other 12?”

Cuccinelli said his campaign got a lot of bad breaks, including having Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) sidelined by a gifts scandal that touched Cuccinelli. The attorney general said he was also hurt by the partial shutdown of the federal government weeks before the election.

Cuccinelli said during the campaign that he opposed the shutdown, but as a hero of the tea party movement, he has espoused many of the same ­limited-government principles as the Republicans who pushed for the standoff. The shutdown also overshadowed the massive glitches that accompanied the health-care law’s rollout, which began the same day.

“The only one [break] we got was Obamacare, and that was scheduled,” he said. “It was on the calendar for three years.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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