By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), one of Northern Virginia's few conservative elected officials with grass-roots support across the state, announced plans yesterday to run for attorney general next year.
Cuccinelli, 39, won reelection in the fall by 92 votes in western Fairfax County despite the region's increasing tendency to choose Democrats at the polls. He touted his conservative credentials on such issues as illegal immigration, gun rights, the death penalty and abortion as evidence that he can court Republican votes and complete a conservative GOP ticket that could also feature gubernatorial contender Robert F. McDonnell, the current attorney general, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who will seek reelection next year.
"We have the opportunity to have the strongest ticket that Republicans have fielded in years, many years," Cuccinelli said at his announcement in Fairfax yesterday. "I believe I can round out that ticket, bringing in my history of conservative leadership and a strong grass-roots network based here in Northern Virginia."
Cuccinelli, McDonnell and Bolling could face opposition next spring, but if they win the GOP nomination, Republicans would be fielding a formidable ticket geographically as well. McDonnell is from Virginia Beach, and Bolling is from the Richmond area. To underscore his value as an elected Republican from Northern Virginia, Cuccinelli staged his announcement yesterday at the Fairfax County Government Center.
The location was symbolic in another way. Cuccinelli, never afraid to take on his ideological foes, made it clear that he is undeterred by his unpopularity among the Democrats who control Fairfax County politics. (Gerald E. Connolly, the Democratic chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, joked that the building had been "defiled" by Cuccinelli's appearance.)
Cuccinelli said that he believes Democrats' string of victories in Northern Virginia is coming to a close and that Republicans could hasten the turnaround by remaining true to their conservative values and courting like-minded voters outside Northern Virginia.
"This would be a ticket with a record of fighting for Virginia's families and businesses and representing the three most populous parts of the commonwealth, all while still maintaining a set of values and policies that I believe will resonate very strongly in rural Virginia as well," Cuccinelli said. "That's a combination for victory for Republicans in 2009."
It's also a combination likely to attract strong criticism from Democrats. Although Cuccinelli is the first to declare plans to run for attorney general, he will probably face competition not only for the Republican nomination but in the general election as well. So far, only Del. Stephen C. Shannon (D-Fairfax) has been openly considering a bid on the Democratic side. Shannon might neutralize any advantage Cuccinelli might have in Northern Virginia.
Interest groups are also likely to weigh in, and at least one already has. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the abortion rights organization, issued a statement yesterday criticizing not only Cuccinelli's opposition to abortion but that of the other two likely statewide candidates as well.
"NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia will work every minute from now until November 3, 2009, to ensure that voters understand the extreme records of McDonnell, Bolling and Cuccinelli," said Tarina Keene, the organization's executive director. "These three men are out of touch with Virginia voters, a majority of whom believe the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be a private and personal one made by a woman in consultation with her physician and her family."
What remains to be seen is whether Cuccinelli's conservatism would resonate powerfully enough in rural Virginia to carry Republicans to victory when the state is trending away from conservative candidates.
Other names circulating as possible Republican contenders include former state lawmaker and federal appointee Paul Harris, one of Virginia's few black Republican leaders; David M. Foster, former chairman of the Arlington County School Board; and state Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville).
McDonnell and Bolling have not endorsed a Republican for attorney general. But Cuccinelli has been endorsed by two conservative colleagues in the Senate: Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), who had briefly considered his own bid for attorney general; and Ralph K. Smith (R-Roanoke), who was elected in November.
Cuccinelli is a partner in the law firm of Cuccinelli & Day. He was first elected to the Senate in a 2002 special election. He serves on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and has also taken an interest in improving state mental health services, in part because of his work as a court-appointed lawyer. He said he would continue to push for mental health reforms if elected attorney general. He also said he would initiate a government-wide evaluation of state programs for the purpose of eliminating unnecessary or wasteful spending.