PeterGaluszkaIt is not surprising that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II will write a check for about $18,000 to a Richmond charity to cover the cost of gifts he accepted from the controversial head of a dietary supplement maker. What is surprising is the timing.

What took Cuccinelli so long? His ties to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Star Scientific have been known for months. Although the Republican gubernatorial candidate has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a Richmond prosecutor, he has still had to recuse himself from several legal cases involving his office because he took, and didn’t readily report, gifts from Williams. He also didn’t immediately report his stock holding in Star Scientific.

The obvious answer is that eight weeks from Election Day, Cuccinelli needs to put more distance between himself and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. They are the subjects of a federal probe involving gifts and loans from Williams. Their fate may be known soon since their lawyers are expected to meet with federal prosecutors this week.

Cuccinelli is slipping in the polls behind Terry McAuliffe, his Democratic opponent in the race. “GiftGate” is an obvious factor, but another, as reported by the Post’s Laura Vozzella this morning, is that Cuccinelli is in danger of losing his all-important Tea Party base.

Cuccinelli shouldn’t have to worry about holding on to such supporters, but he seems to have been playing too much to more centrist conservatives, which he must do to win. Thus, he needs to tone down his strident social views on homosexuals, marriage and abortion. This can be self-defeating because by doing so, he risks his base, without which he also has no hope of victory.

Vozzella quotes Richmond Tea Party chief Larry Nordvig as saying: “He needs to come back to his conservative base, including the Tea Party. … If they stay home in droves, he will lose.”

Also curious is how Cuccinelli is trying to squeeze sympathy out of the Star Scientific episode. He is reportedly giving a check for $18,000 to CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, a Richmond charity that helps the homeless.

Aiding the less fortunate is not out of character for Cuccinelli, who, a Post magazine article noted three years ago, backed groups to help women assaulted sexually when he was a University of Virginia undergraduate. In 2010, he gave $100,000 in donations left over from his inauguration as attorney general to Richmond charities that help the homeless and mentally ill.

So, he does have chops in charity. What seems somewhat less authentic are his excuses about why it took so long to cough up the $18,000 check to further extract him from GiftGate.

In a video apology, a humbled Cuccinelli said putting the money together “is not a simple mater” and that family and friends helped. Family folks would understand, you see.

Maybe. But no one asked Cuccinelli to have seven children, a biographical fact that a campaign adviser noted in August to explain why the attorney general had not paid off the gifts at that point. Using them as an excuse is a bit on the tacky side. And we’re not talking about ordinary family gifts from a doting uncle. Cuccinelli and his family enjoyed a catered Thanksgiving meal at Williams’s  luxury vacation home, among other treats.

These are part of the strange contradictions that make up Cuccinelli’s quirky persona. It’s all fascinating politics but they raise huge questions about the man’s character and what happens if he wins.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.