The Virginia gubernatorial race hasn’t attracted the attention of many people beyond the media, which is starved for a political race to cover in 2013. Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II and Democratic mega-fundraiser Terry McAuliffe both have high negative ratings even before the bulk of attack ads get underway. The race is expected to be close and will, I suspect, turn on the answers to ten questions:
1. Who has a more credible claim to sharing credit for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s popular transportation bill? Cuccinelli tried to back a rival bill, while McAuliffe has come under fire for trying to horn in on the praise.
2. Will McAuliffe succeed in painting a portrait of Cuccinelli as an ideologue extremist on gay rights (challenging state universities’ effort to ban discrimination against gays), abortion (mandatory, invasive sonograms) and governmental regulation or will Cuccinelli convince voters McAuliffe is too far too the left on abortion, Medicaid and taxes?
3. How hard is McDonnell going to campaign for Cuccinelli? On one hand, passing the baton to his successor helps cement McDonnell’s legacy. However, I wonder if he is really going to go to the mat for a pol who tried to sink his transportation bill?
4. Will Cuccinelli’s prowess at debating make a difference? He’s been underestimated before, but in his attorney general race and as a state legislator he’s always been able to reassure voters he’s no extremist.
5. How much do allegations of impropriety figure in the race? McAuliffe was caught fuzzing up the facts on his green car company. But McAuliffe seems keen to raise a potential conflict of interest and problematic receipt of gifts by Cuccinelli in the Star Scientific case.
6. Can McAuliffe stir up his base on issues like abortion and gay rights without turning off swing voters? Cuccinelli has championed regulation of abortion clinics while McAuliffe is pro-choice. In the wake of the Kermit Gosnell case, which one will seem closer to the average Virginian?
7. Cuccinelli started out with a pitch on tax cuts, but do Virginians really feel undertaxed or did the transportation bill show Virginians are willing to pay for things that improve their quality of life?
8. How much will lieutentant governor nominee E.W. Jackson hurt Cuccinelli? While Cuccinelli has generally avoided extravagant and controversial language, the media are already finding “gems.” Will his dabbling in birtherism come back to haunt him?
9. How big a role with Obamacare play? Cuccinelli expended huge effort to challenge the law’s constitutionality while McAuliffe has already endorsed expanding Medicaid. Cuccinelli seems to be more in touch with state voters, but will his role fire up Democrats to turn out against him?
10. Cuccinelli will have his conservative base behind him with a turnout model that looks more like 2009 than 2012. McAuliffe hasn’t been the darling of the left in his party and will have to drum up voters who in the past may have sat out gubernatorial elections. Can McAuliffe tip the electorate more in his direction and motivate his voters the way Cuccinelli will be able to?