McAuliffe (D) and Cuccinelli (R) made back-to-back pitches to a Northern Virginia business audience Friday — and continued firing away at each other — in what was billed as a “Battleground Forum.”
The event, held at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, was organized by the chambers of commerce from Prince William County, Loudoun County, Fredericksburg and Reston. Questions came from a panel of chamber officials, and the event was moderated by WUSA9 anchor Derek McGinty, who wasn’t shy about pushing both men for specifics.
Both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are eager to attract the votes — and donations — of the Northern Virginia business community, and each cast himself Friday as the best bet for future job creation. But they offered starkly different proposals to boost the economy, splitting on taxes, transportation, health care and energy.
The sharpest exchange of the day came over the Bi-County Parkway, a proposed 10-mile connection from Interstate 66 in Prince William to Route 50 in Loudoun that is backed by much of the Northern Virginia business community but opposed by critics who say it will exacerbate traffic or disturb Manassas National Battlefield Park.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, declined to take a position on the project, saying he needed to weigh both sides of it first. “I want to get all the stakeholders in a room,” he said.
“Don’t you owe it to the voters to take an actual position on the Bi-County Parkway before they go to the polls?” McGinty asked.
McAuliffe responded: “I just think sometimes people make decisions without all the facts in front of them.”
When McGinty said McAuliffe owed voters a position, McAuliffe snapped: “That’s cute to say, but I do not make decisions, nor will I make decisions, without the facts in front of me.”
McAuliffe ended on a lighter note by asking whether McGinty lived in Virginia. He said he doesn’t but might when he knows more about the Bi-County Parkway.
“Fix that traffic,” he chided later as McAuliffe moved off stage.
Cuccinelli, by contrast, said he supported the idea of a connecting road between the two counties. But he said he dislikes the idea of closing or reducing access to existing roads — Routes 234 and 29 — if a new one is built.
“I am appalled at the notion of closing roads as part of the trade-off to do this,” Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli was also pushed by McGinty on the subject of taxes. Cuccinelli has proposed a $1.4 billion tax cut but has not specified how to pay for it beyond the broad idea that some tax incentives and loopholes should be eliminated.
McGinty asked him exactly which incentives he’d cut, since “there’s no free lunch.”
Cuccinelli declined to say, as he would leave it to the General Assembly to put together a specific plan. “The minute I pick one [tax credit to end], I have to pick 100, and then I haven’t involved the legislators,” he said.
As he does often, McAuliffe painted Cuccinelli as someone who would take a sharply conservative position on key matters rather than pursue bipartisanship to create jobs. “There is a choice between rigid ideology and mainstream compromise,” he said.
Cuccinelli countered that he was the transparent, straightforward candidate, unlike his foe.
“You may not always agree with me but you’ll always know where I stand,” Cuccinelli said.
The two candidates also broke on transportation and health-care policy, among other key issues. McAuliffe made clear he supports taking federal money to expand Medicaid in Virginia, while Cuccinelli opposes doing so without sweeping changes to the program.
McAuliffe favored the Silver Line rail to Dulles International Airport and the massive transportation bill approved by the General Assembly this year, as did the chambers of commerce that hosted Friday’s event.
“The decisions Ken Cuccinelli and I made at the time give you a window into how we will perform as governor,” McAuliffe said.
Cuccinelli acknowledged that he opposed both projects but stressed that he would spend transportation money far more efficiently in the future than McAuliffe would.
“My frugality will make every penny of this transportation bill go farther,” Cuccinelli said, while criticizing McAuliffe for his “incredible intimacy with unions.”
Cuccinelli also spent significant time, particularly in his opening statement, attacking McAuliffe’s integrity. He pointed out that GreenTech, the electric-car company McAuliffe co-founded, is under federal investigation while also citing several past ethical controversies from McAuliffe’s fundraising for Bill Clinton and service as Democratic National Committee chairman.
The joint appearance comes as the campaign accelerates through August into a fall period that will bring far more scrutiny and fireworks to the contest, with millions more dollars expected to pour into advertisements on both sides. The race has drawn outsized attention on a national level, because it’s viewed as the lone genuinely competitive race in the country, with two big personalities clashing in a state that is viewed as a battleground.
Though they have attended several joint forums, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have so far held only one face-to-face debate, last month in Hot Springs. They are scheduled to hold one debate in September in McLean, sponsored by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and are expected to agree to a third debate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.