January 25, 2013

As one of only two states to hold gubernatorial elections this year, Virginia will soon be in the national political spotlight. The coming election will be the Republican Party’s chance to reintroduce itself to voters after its defeat in November, when absurd comments on rape and abortion and other social issues hurt GOP hopefuls everywhere and marked the party as backward. The last thing that the party needs now is a headline candidate who will further damage the Republican brand — not to mention Virginia’s reputation as a top place to do business.

But that’s what they have in Ken Cuccinelli.

While Cuccinelli does have a positive approach to business, he has repeatedly embarrassed Virginia by pursuing one of the most extreme state-level social agendas in the nation. As attorney general, he insisted Virginia clinics providing legal abortions to women be closed if they could not meet new onerous, hospital-like regulations. He has engaged in a witch hunt against the University of Virginia and a former university climate scientist. He and his supporters pushed through a change in party rules that switched the state GOP nominating process from a primary to a convention, making sure zealot delegates, rather than Republican voters across the state, would select the gubernatorial candidate — an approach that clearly favors his own candidacy. He even earned a reputation for not getting along well within his party, as evidenced by his refusal to join the other Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit against Obamacare. Instead, Cuccinelli wasted taxpayer money by rushing to file his own lawsuit, only to see it dismissed by a federal appeals court.

I am an independent who has supported Republicans — including, most recently, Mitt Romney — and Democrats in the past. I am also the head of a 150-employee company, and I want to attract and keep the best and brightest employees I can. I know I join other Virginia employers in concern that the state has become less attractive to talented Americans because of elected officials advocating on social issues such as invasive ultrasound for abortions. In fact, last year, it took me only a few hours to get more than 30 business leaders to sign a letter to the governor and legislators saying that these extreme social positions are hurting Virginia’s attractiveness to businesses.

With Cuccinelli heading the ticket, we can expect the sole Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, to magnify this social extremism in advertising. A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, McAuliffe was runner-up in the 2009 primary for Virginia governor. I like Terry and even held a dinner for him to meet potential contributors in 2009, but he is not a perfect candidate. With his record of advocacy for unions and his reputation as primarily a fundraiser for Bill Clinton, he will not be embraced by independents and Republicans who are focused on the commonwealth’s economic health.

Virginia needs another Republican choice. Cuccinelli will not be beaten at the convention, but moderate Republicans could be drafted to run as independents. The most likely to succeed would be former congressman Thomas M. Davis III, a socially moderate businessman who ran the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and can appeal to voters in both parties. Fairfax Del. Barbara Comstock has brains and experience. Businessman Don Upson, who was Virginia’s first secretary of technology (and is a friend of mine), guided Virginia to lead the world in Internet commerce policy. And Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a moderate (compared to Cuccinelli, at least) who dropped out of the Republican primary, is a smart, albeit low-key, option. Bolling has said he is considering such a run and expects to make a decision by early March.

I hope we can persuade one of these fine people, or someone like them, to jump in. For years, Virginia has succeeded because it is pro-business, with traditional but tolerant social views. There is no reason we cannot continue this legacy, but right now we — and the Republican Party across the nation — are in dire need of a third option in the race for governor of Virginia.

The writer is president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association and author of “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses.”