We know one of these two Virginia gubernatorial candidates has to win, but so far neither Republican Ken Cuccinelli nor Democrat Terry McAuliffe is setting the world on fire. That may work to Cuccinelli’s benefit. Unlike President Obama, who defined Mitt Romney in the summer and kept him perpetually on defense, McAuliffe — as The Post reports — is virtually invisible. Other than to puff up his resume, I have no idea why McAuliffe wants to be governor. (To ensure abortion on demand in the state? To help implement Obamacare and expand Medicaid?)
McAuliffe’s supposed strength — his experience as a businessman — is his greatest weakness given the clouds that hang over his past activities and companies. And take the businessman out of the picture and all you have is a rich Democratic operative. That’s not a very alluring image.
If McAuliffe wants to win he’ll need to pick up his game. Here are five ways he could do it:
1. Make the case that to grow and prosper, Virginia has to be diverse and inclusive. (This is a not-too-subtle way of attacking Cuccinelli’s stances on immigration, abortion and gay marriage.)
2. Convince us why should we like him. No, seriously — there is not much evidence that he’s used his wealth philanthropically or that he is there to help people rather than himself. A Democrat with an empathy gap is as rare as it is off-putting to the base he will need to turn out.
3. Get help. Let’s face it — McAuliffe’s longtime pals the Clintons are more popular than he is. The president is far more capable of exciting African Americans than he is. Former governor and now Sen. Mark Warner (D) is more respected than he is. He’ll need to use these figures both to turn out Democrats and to land some blows against his opponent, and he better have them clear their calendars for the fall.
4. Show what he can he do for Virginia that Cuccinelli can’t. Maybe he is going to bring more business into the state or get more cooperation from the federal government. So far we haven’t heard a good argument.
5. Figure out how to frame the argument against his opponent. He’s hobbled by his own financial and ethical scrapes in raising Star Scientific. His own role as head of the Democratic National Committee prevents him from running against a “professional politician.” He should pick a theme and stick with it.
Cuccinelli has his own problems that cry out for a solution. Here are five of them:
1. Decide what to do about the gift scandals. Since Gov. Bob McDonnell has apologized, that gives the attorney general some latitude both to criticize and propose reforms. Why not lay out his proposal for new state ethics rules?
2. Voters are tired of Obama and tired of Washington politics. Without regard to ideology Cuccinelli can make the case that partisan, national politics shouldn’t come to Virginia, which have enjoyed successive governors who worked with the legislature to improve the state.
3. Cuccinelli laid out his tax-reform plan (which was vague on how he’d pay for cuts), but since then we haven’t heard much policy. He needs a “quality of life” agenda for job growth, infrastructure, higher education and energy development.
4. Counteract the attacks that he is an extremist on social issues. Now might be a good idea to tell voters that he doesn’t think the state needs new laws on abortion or to repeal McDonnell’s support for state universities’ nondiscrimination policy against gays; he just intends to enforce the laws on the books.
5. Be the guy who took on Obamacare. The law is unpopular and associated with the worst of the federal government. Cuccinelli has done everything he could to get rid of it; McAuliffe loves it. Cuccinelli tried to kill off Obamacare in the courts (unsuccessfully) and has pledged not to expand Medicaid; McAuliffe made a risky pledge to expand Medicaid. At a time when Obamacare is crumbling, Cuccinelli should make the race, to the extent he can, a referendum on Obamacare.
It’s not clear if either of these guys will do any of these. But right now it’s an open question as to whether at least one of the candidates knows how to knock out the other guy.