RICHMOND — High-powered Terry McAuliffe supporters made a furious attempt over the weekend to reverse a Washington area business group’s endorsement of Republican Ken Cuccinelli II for governor, with state legislators warning that “doors will be closed” to the group if it sticks by its choice.
The pressure exerted on the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s political arm, Tech PAC, by a U.S. senator, a Republican lieutenant governor at odds with Cuccinelli and several others suggests that McAuliffe’s campaign is worried that a Cuccinelli endorsement could undermine the central premise of the Democrat’s campaign — that he, an entrepreneur who started his first venture at 14, is the pro-business candidate and that Cuccinelli, a social conservative popular with the tea party, is too extreme for the state’s centrist business leaders.
Members of the council’s executive committee decided late Sunday to stick by the Cuccinelli endorsement but also to issue a statement saying that the PAC’s action might not reflect the views of its parent organization, the NVTC, according to news releases scheduled to be distributed Monday morning and obtained by The Washington Post.
The potential setback for McAuliffe comes at a time when the Democrat appeared to have an advantage in the race. Recent polls show Cuccinelli trailing. The Republican spent last week trying to distance himself from a scandal consuming Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, but wound up further entangled by disclosing that federal investigators had once questioned him about his own ties to a businessman who has showered the governor and his family with gifts.
The reasoning behind the NVTC TechPAC’s nod — Cuccinelli had detailed responses to questions in candidate interviews, three board members said, while McAuliffe was uninformed and superficial — bolsters the view that the Democrat’s breezy style doesn’t sit well with some Virginians. Two of the people said they were leaning toward Cuccinelli before the interviews; one disliked both candidates.
The episode also offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the high-stakes maneuvering for gubernatorial endorsements. Once the McAuliffe camp’s efforts to reverse the decision became known, Cuccinelli supporters tried to head it off, according to two people directly involved who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential matter.
“The pressure is hot and heavy,” Dendy Young, TechPAC chairman and chief executive of McLean Capital, wrote in an e-mail to TechPAC members Sunday morning. Young wrote that he received calls Saturday from Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Lt. Governor Bill Bolling (R) and Aneesh Chopra, the former U.S. chief technology officer and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Young also said that, on the other side of the issue, Cuccinelli called him, too.
The McAuliffe camp’s effort to reverse the endorsement was seen by some as an overreaction that will only draw attention to a development that is of limited interest to the average voter. Several people with knowledge of the proceedings said they were shocked at his mishandling of the endorsement process itself — and his misread of the serious and thoughtful approach to the issues that the council was expecting to hear from both candidates.