Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says he’s “the wrong guy” to ask about whether Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) should resign amid revelations of additional allegations he took improper gifts from a prominent donor.
Priebus stopped in Virginia on Thursday to headline a campaign office opening in Chesterfield alongside Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli, the current attorney general, is challenging Democrat Terry McAuliffe in November in one of the country’s most closely-watched contests, seen as a bellwether for 2014.
Asked in an interview after the event about whether the McDonnell case involving Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. is a drag on the ticket, Priebus responded, “Ken is going to be judged by Ken.”
The chairman said he doesn’t know the facts in the McDonnell case.
“I haven’t talked to the governor,” he said. “I know as much as you do. I don’t know the Virginia campaign finance laws. What I do know is Bob McDonnell has done an incredible job as governor. You’re asking the wrong guy.”
Priebus praised Cuccinelli’s record in public office as consistent and authentic.
“We need people of their word to run for office, win elections and then govern like they campaign,” Priebus told the crowd. “It’s real simple. You have that person in Ken Cuccinelli.”
Contrasting himself to his opponent, Cuccinelli said he is the only candidate who will not need on-the-job training. McAuliffe, a longtime Democratic fundraiser and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has never held public office.
“We are asking the people to entrust to us the highest office in Virginia,” Cuccinelli said. “We all know there’s a difference between politics and governing.”
McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin characterized Cuccinelli’s remarks as distractions.
“Ken Cuccinelli’s ‘experience’ is trying to make common forms of birth control like the pill illegal and helping his financial benefactor, Star Scientific, not pay their taxes,” Schwerin said. “While Terry is focused on mainstream solutions to strengthen and diversify the economy Ken Cuccinelli seems to be spending all of his time making wild attacks in an attempt to distract voters from his record of extremism and scandal.”
When asked whether he thought McDonnell should resign, Cuccinelli continued to dismiss the question as one for the governor. He said he has not spoken to McDonnell recently.
“Certainly, I share the same kind of concerns and disappointment with the circumstances we’re seeing unfold before us,” Cuccinelli said. “I think that any time you have a situation like this, the public asks, ‘Does this system work right and is it working for us?’”
Cuccinelli’s staff shielded him for months from details of the allegations against McDonnell. Earlier this year, he sought a state investigation into the matter, which is being handled outside of the attorney general’s office. Cuccinelli says he supports changes to the state’s gifts laws, including a reasonable ban and disclosures of gifts to family members.
Currently, there is no limit on gifts to elected officials in Virginia, and family members are exempt from reporting, making the state’s rules among the most lax in the country.