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Cuccinelli Struggles to Appease Conservative Base in Fairfax

"This is not an extreme district," said Democrat Janet S. Oleszek, who is seeking to unseat Cuccinelli. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

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By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

In increasingly Democratic-leaning Fairfax County, state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R) is accustomed to labels. One of the General Assembly's most ardent conservatives, Cuccinelli has been called extreme, radical, out of touch and worse.

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What the state senator from western Fairfax is not used to is dissent from the right. Yet that's what he's getting because of his vote, in February, for major transportation reform, including regional taxes, as well as controversial new fees for driving offenses.

In addition to battling Democrats intent on winning Fairfax's three Republican-held Senate seats, Cuccinelli, 39, must appease his base: the anti-tax, pro-gun, anti-abortion conservatives whose loyalty and heavy turnout have, in past elections, allowed him to overcome the left-leaning demographics of Northern Virginia.

Republicans, Democrats and Cuccinelli agree that if those voters don't turn out for him Nov. 6, he's in trouble.

"I'm a little conflicted here because Ken is a friend," said Phil Rodokanakis, president of the Virginia Club for Growth, a vocal anti-tax organization that has pledged not to support any lawmaker who voted for the transportation bill. "But his vote on House Bill 3202 went against what this organization stands for."

Cuccinelli's opponent is Democrat Janet S. Oleszek, a county School Board member who is making the most of the Republican's vote for the transportation bill. Oleszek's campaign hosts a Web site, http://www.cuccinellitax.com, that boasts the headline: "$3,000 for a Speeding Ticket?"

Oleszek is also going after Cuccinelli for his conservative positions on various issues that she said illustrate how out of touch he is with a district that voted overwhelmingly for U.S. Sen. James Webb (D) last year and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) in 2005. Cuccinelli has consistently stood in favor of abortion restrictions, gun and property rights and minimal growth in state spending.

"This is not an extreme district," said Oleszek, 60. "There are issues that my neighbors and my community have supported for years and years and years. They support reproductive rights. They support stem cell research, gun control and education."

The upset Cuccinelli has caused within his conservative base has led to an unlikely alliance between him and Republican Senate leaders, a group of veteran lawmakers with moderate views on taxes and social issues who have more often partnered with Democratic governors than the right-leaning members of their party.

Last week, Cuccinelli traveled to Richmond for a fundraiser with Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico) and Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) -- two lawmakers who have rarely teamed with Cuccinelli on anything.

Cuccinelli acknowledged it was unusual for him to partner with Republican Senate leaders. He also noted that the list of issues most important to him transcends the conservative label critics often slap on him. Cuccinelli, a lawyer who does patent work and also takes court-appointed cases involving commitment of the mentally ill, has pushed for more state funding for mental health.

"When you talk to Janet, you hear the word 'extreme' about 200 times," he said. "Her problem is reality. I have a record on hundreds of issues that have nothing to do with ideology."


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