Cuccinelli Sticks With Conservative Message in Va. Attorney General's Race

Virginia attorney general candidate Ken Cuccinelli II acknowledges that many voters in his district disagree with his conservative views.
Virginia attorney general candidate Ken Cuccinelli II acknowledges that many voters in his district disagree with his conservative views. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 2009

Gun rights advocates gathered outside the Virginia state Capitol for a rally in January, some of them wearing their weapons tucked beneath their clothes. Among the featured speakers was Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, one of the most conservative members of the state legislature and a fixture in gun rights circles.

Tall and lean, dressed in a black overcoat and buffered against the wind by an indigo scarf, he noted that his opposition to efforts to "roll back our right to protect ourselves" is not shared by many of his Northern Virginia constituents.

"I have a district that votes four-to-one for gun control," he told the crowd in a speech that was circulated on YouTube. "But I know defending the Second Amendment is the right thing to do. And so I've led the charge year in and year out to do just that."

That incongruity has been a hallmark of Cuccinelli's seven years as a GOP lawmaker from Fairfax County, where by his own admission, conservatives of his stripe are an "endangered species." The unusual blend of politics and geography will come into sharp focus, in ways favorable and not, when he runs statewide this year as the Republican candidate for attorney general.

Critics and fans of Cuccinelli, 40, say he is a shrewd and hardworking campaigner with a record of winning in enemy territory and a loyal following among home-schoolers, antiabortion activists and others in the conservative wing of the party. That base helped push Cuccinelli over the top at the recent Republican convention, where he secured the nomination from among three competitors.

His nomination has buoyed some Democrats who believe that his views are extreme and will benefit their candidates, particularly Del. Stephen C. Shannon, their nominee for attorney general. They hope Cuccinelli will drag down the entire GOP ticket, including Robert F. McDonnell, who has sought a more centrist path to the governor's mansion.

Among the more controversial legislation Cuccinelli has introduced is a bill that would have cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood. That same session, he proposed a law that would have allowed employers to fire workers for failing to learn English. He was a champion of the 2006 state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and has said unequivocally that "homosexuality is wrong."

Shannon, a fellow Fairfax County resident, said: "People want folks elected to office who really try to work across party lines and who work on solutions. Ken has a different view, I think. He's very focused on what I consider hot-button social issues."

The two are not strangers. Their districts overlap, and it is their custom to have dinner once a year during the legislative session.

"This year he asked for a rain check because he said he was kind of busy. That's okay, because I think it was my year to pick up the tab," Shannon joked.

In the statewide campaign, the first for both candidates, Cuccinelli said he will call on those who have been charmed by his intelligence and affability and his unapologetic devotion to his causes, regardless of political pressure.

"The impression outside the legislature is that he's a rabid partisan who's hard to get along with and prickly," said Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester). "That could not be farther from the truth. I think it springs from the fact that he is a champion of the causes he believes in, and he does it publicly and boldly."

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