Veteran Democratic strategist says he’s pulling for Cuccinelli in Virginia governor’s race

David “Mudcat” Saunders, a veteran Democratic Party strategist, said Monday that he is backing Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) in the Virginia governor’s race over Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe because of economic justice issues.

Saunders said he disagrees with Cuccinelli’s stance on social issues but prefers him over McAuliffe because McAuliffe is too much a product of big business and politics.

“I’m a friend of Ken Cuccinelli’s and I hope he wins,” Saunders said. “I’m a Democrat, and not a corporatist. I don’t support corporatist candidates.”

Saunders laughed off a question about whether he would make a formal endorsement of Cuccinelli – “I don’t think anybody cares who I endorse” – and said they argue about Cuccinelli’s views on abortion and gay rights.

But Saunders, who has specialized in helping Democrats reach independent and moderate voters in rural and suburban areas, said he hoped Cuccinelli wins because of his views of economic fairness.

“People want to know why all these big business people are jumping behind McAuliffe. It’s not because of social issues, it’s because of economic fairness,” Saunders said in a telephone interview.

Saunders, who often referred to Cuccinelli by his nickname, “Cooch,” also said he believes Cuccinelli’s ethical record is stronger than McAuliffe’s.

“Because I’m not blind, and I see a guy who’s got rich because of his political contacts, and I think that’s wrong,” Saunders said. “I’ve known Cooch and Cooch is not a crook. If he was, he wouldn’t be broke. A moron can figure that one out.”

Saunders, who lives outside Roanoke, said he might rethink his support if McAuliffe released eight years of his tax returns, as Cuccinelli has done.

Saunders’s remarks come as the GOP is still smarting over the defection of Boyd Marcus, a longtime Republican consultant who is now on the payroll of McAuliffe’s campaign. McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, has also crowed over the endorsements of Republicans, such as Jan Schar, the former president of the Virginia Federation of Republican Women, and former state senators Marty Williams (Newport News) and Brandon Bell (Roanoke), as well as Republican-leaning business people.

Saunders served as a senior adviser to former senator John Edwards’s presidential bid and helped Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va) craft a winning campaign that appealed to NASCAR dads in Warner’s successful run for governor in 2001. He also was a strategist on former senator Jim Webb’s campaign in 2006.

At the moment, Saunders said he’s trying to finish work on a book titled “The Half-Assed Christian’s Guide to Living: Rescuing Jesus from Sunday Charlatans and Political Whores.”

Saunders said there’s no way he would take money from Cuccinelli’s campaign if he decided to go further in helping them. Saunders, who identified himself as a Jacksonian Democrat, also said there are plenty of other disaffected Democrats like him, particularly in Southwest Virginia, where people who depend on the coal industry feel left behind by the Democratic Party’s focus on environmental issues.

“Once my party starts caring for the people at the bottom of the mountain as much as they care for the trees at the top of the mountain, I’ll join the conversation. That’s the deal with Cooch. Cooch deals with the people at the bottom of the mountain,” Saunders said.

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