On Saturday, the annual Virginia state Republican meeting called the Republican Advance was held in Virginia Beach. Current state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, with the departure of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling from the gubernatorial race, now has the field to himself.
His remarks suggest he’s running on a standard fare conservative message. In remarks punctuated by plenty of red meat, he told the crowd, “Well, one thing I know Virginians don’t want, don’t need, and sure as heck can’t afford, and that’s two Democrat parties! Look Friends, Virginia once again has an opportunity – this is an opportunity to show the country that conservatism isn’t dead …that it’s not old or worn out –and that it’s still alive and thriving!” As for the substance, he kept it vague, really vague: “Preserving Life, Liberty and the opportunity for every Virginian to pursue happiness continue to be the purposes of government. These principles are timeless and universal. They apply as much today as they did on July 4th, 1776.”
The only hint of an agenda was this: “Decrease the burdens of government. Increase individual liberty. And focus on continuing the efforts of Gov. McDonnell on economic development. Liberty in the economy is opportunity. We can’t have economic opportunity, without liberty.”
Aside from using “life” a few times he spoke not a word about social issues. However, given how light on substance the speech was, it is hard to tell if that will be indicative of the race he intends to run. Certainly, he’s trying (smartly) to tie his campaign to the successful governorship of McDonnell, who is one of the most popular governors in the country.
As I noted last week, Cuccinelli would be smart to define himself early, put out some bread-and-butter issues (e.g. overcrowded state universities, transportation, health care) he intends to pursue. The way to show that conservatism is “not old or worn out — and that it’s still alive and thriving” is to apply conservative principles to issues voters care about and to demonstrate that Republicans have a reform agenda that can improve, in this case, state government. His speech for the Republican Advance was aimed at the conservative faithful. But the challenge for Cuccinelli is whether the GOP base that can be turned out in an off-year election and will that be the ceiling for his support or the floor. He is now going to have to adjust his tone, agenda and rhetoric to fit a general election audience. He better start soon; his likely opponent, Terry McAuliffe, is already naming his campaign co-chairs.