That statement from his campaign and their past differences underscore Cuccinelli’s delicate task: winning over McDonnell’s supporters as he pledges to be a very different governor.
While Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe has portrayed himself as an heir to McDonnell’s pragmatic, business-friendly governing style, Cuccinelli has largely run for his job without embracing the legacy of the incumbent, even though they hail from the same party and McDonnell has enjoyed strong job-approval ratings.
The two Republicans have not been close, and Cuccinelli defied McDonnell’s wishes by running in the first place, pushing aside McDonnell’s preferred successor, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Cuccinelli has drawn financial and political support from different sectors of the GOP than did McDonnell. And Cuccinelli has split from McDonnell on major policies, making clear that his governorship would not be McDonnell 2.0.
“When a candidate is running to succeed a popular incumbent of his own party, they generally tend to hug that incumbent pretty tightly,” said Dan Schnur, a former aide to California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) who runs the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
Schnur cited the example of George H.W. Bush, who ran for the White House in 1988 essentially pledging to deliver Ronald Reagan’s third term. Al Gore, by contrast, campaigned in 2000 by distancing himself from Bill Clinton, a strategy some observers have called a mistake.
Although Cuccinelli is focusing his campaign message on jobs and economic growth, the way McDonnell did in 2009, Cuccinelli opposed McDonnell’s signature policy achievement — an overhaul of how the state pays for transportation projects — and rarely praises McDonnell’s achievements.
“Ken Cuccinelli is Ken Cuccinelli,” said Cuccinelli adviser Chris LaCivita. “He’s not Bob McDonnell, and he’s not Bob McDonnell lite. But what he has said publicly is that he wants to continue the focus of the administration, which has been jobs and the economy.”
What’s not clear is whether the differences will insulate Cuccinelli from a trait they share in common: a history of taking gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the wealthy donor who is chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific Inc. and whose interactions with the McDonnell family are now under investigation.
Monday in Norfolk, Cuccinelli suggested that he was not concerned that the scandal would hurt his campaign.
“I’m not worried,” he said. “I mean, this isn’t related to me, so the case will take the course it should, and my main concern as attorney general is simply that the truth be brought out.”