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Friends and foes note Cuccinelli's ability to connect

Attorney general hopeful Kenneth Cuccinelli's job approach: Take it slow and transform Virginia government.
Attorney general hopeful Kenneth Cuccinelli's job approach: Take it slow and transform Virginia government. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
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Robert and Monica Chiralo attend Cuccinelli's church in Clifton and have been friends and political supporters for several years. Both said they were astonished to see the level of statewide support for Cuccinelli at the Republican convention in the spring. "The energy in the room, the energy in the hall, it was all Cuccinelli supporters," Monica Chiralo said.

Cuccinelli can be inflammatory. Disdainful of theories about climate change, he has called advocates of emissions caps "watermelons": green on the outside and red (communist) on the inside.

He has also gone after Shannon for his actions after a U.S. Supreme Court decision this year required live testimony to introduce scientific reports in criminal trials -- and jeopardized thousands of DUI and drug cases. When Cuccinelli immediately called for a special legislative session to revise state law, Shannon called it a "political stunt" and said administrative fixes would be less costly than convening the General Assembly. Ultimately, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) called a special session in July.

"He got the law wrong twice in a week, and his own governor didn't agree with him," Cuccinelli said at a recent debate.

Shannon has accused Cuccinelli of wanting to impose his own moral compass to decide which laws he would defend. The implication is that Cuccinelli's views on such matters as abortion, state funding for stem cell research or abstinence-only education could come to bear while in office.

Evaluating the law

Cuccinelli denies the characterization. It is appropriate, he said, for the attorney general to evaluate the constitutionality of state laws; if anything, recent attorneys general with an eye to higher office have avoided this responsibility, he said. In 2007, then-Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, now the Republican candidate for governor, helped broker a transportation deal in the legislature that he has since taken credit for on the campaign trail. The state Supreme Court eventually struck down part of the law because it gave taxing authority to unelected regional bodies, but McDonnell never offered an opinion that the bill was unconstitutional.

Had he been attorney general, Cuccinelli said, he would have offered such an opinion and then declined to defend the bill when it was challenged in court.

Do stories like that mean Cuccinelli has no plans to run for governor? If he wins next month, Cuccinelli could find himself under pressure to run. He has pledged to serve his entire term, and he has not ruled out a long tenure.

"That doesn't sound so bad to me," Cuccinelli said. "There have been folks who arrived in the attorney general's office, who arrived running for some other office. I'm not one of those people."

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