As we have been saying for some time, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli poses a problem for Virginia Republicans. He is the sort of conservative ideologue easily caricatured by the left — and he seems to have gone out of his way to make it easy for them. In an increasingly purple state, his strident positions on social issues were already a problem for him in winning women and moderate voters in the more populous D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia. Moreover, he so far has run a contentless campaign, devoid of meaty agenda items that would give voters reason to support him. To top it off, Cuccinelli is an undisciplined candidate who is out promoting a book that appeals to the national right-wing base of the GOP, but will provide fodder against him back home.
For these reasons I have suggested there is room for a center-right candidate. Now it appears some in the state GOP agree and are going public with their concerns.
Politico reports that prominent donor Bobbie Kilberg, who heads the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, called him out at the Republican Governors Association:
The event was meant to showcase Cuccinelli as one of two Republican gubernatorial candidates this year.
But instead of simply making his pitch and picking up a few business cards from potential donors, Cuccinelli was all but dressed down by two fellow Virginians.
Kilberg, who is close with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, spoke first and noted that the state has become “purple.” She pointed out that McDonnell has sought to govern in the mainstream. But then she wondered aloud if Cuccinelli’ s crusading brand fits Virginia’s present political and demographic reality.
Shapiro spoke up next and was even tougher on Cuccinelli. As a hushed room looked on, Shapiro, who sits on the board of the influential Northern Virginia Technology Council, said the state’s centrist-oriented business community won’t back the Republican standard-bearer because he’s out of the mainstream.
These were the sort of backers who McDonnell had eating out of his hand. If he can’t get them on board how will he win less ideological, swing voters?
Moreover, his lack of focus is not going unnoticed.( “High-level Republicans have privately worried for the past two months that Cuccinelli was not taking steps to mount the sort of campaign — focused on jobs, roads and schools — that McDonnell ran on with great success in 2009.”)
Instead talking “contraception with an Iowa conservative talk radio show host” and plugging his book, he should be putting together an agenda that appeals to in-state voters. He could easily construct a positive agenda including expansion of the over-crowded Virginia state university system, energy development, defense of the state’s right-to-work laws (which Democratic moneyman Terry McAuliffe plainly won’t do) and other quality of life issues that affect suburban voters. Instead, he tried to undermine the just-passed transportation bill (which national Republicans attack and Virginians see as an historic breakthrough) and seems fixated on appealing to a national conservative audience.
Republicans who enjoyed a resurgence in statewide offices, state legislature and in Virginia’s House of Representatives delegation now fear all that ground could slip away with a week gubernatorial candidate and poor showing in other state races this year. But they have only themselves to blame. In opting for a party convention over a competitive primary the state party chased Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling from the race and effectively crowned Cuccinelli their nominee.
Now some experienced Virginia pols hope Bolling will jump into the race. They say he easily could find donors. It is also possible former congressman Tom Davis could be lured into a run (if his wife loses her bid for lieutenant governor).
For now however, Virginia Republicans are stuck with Cuccinelli. Currently he is tied in the polls, but the Democratic onslaught has not begun. If he begins sinking, look for GOP fretting to turn to panic.