Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. (BOB BROWN, STEVE HELBER, Associated Press)

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II and businessman Terry McAuliffe made starkly different pitches for the business community’s support Thursday, highlighting their own policy proposals and dismissing each other’s priorities as wrong for the state.

The two leading candidates in Virginia’s heated race for governor appeared back to back at a Northern Virginia Technology Council forum in Reston, fielding nearly identical questions from local business leaders — a crucial voting bloc that remains largely up for grabs.

Cuccinelli (R) argued that an inexperienced McAuliffe (D) frequently invokes social issues “because he hasn’t put forward an affirmative economic case.” McAuliffe presented himself as a business-friendly moderate in the mold of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), and he cast Cuccinelli as out of step with the day’s audience because of his opposition to McDonnell’s transportation package and the extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.

“I was all for it,” McAuliffe said of the transportation bill after the forum. “He was all against it; he tried to stop it. . . . I support the Silver Line; he said he’d like to kill the Silver Line. So there’s a huge difference.”

On social issues, McAuliffe said the state would not be able to lure companies by “putting walls up around Virginia. We’ve got to stop this attack on women. . . . We’ve got to stop the attack on gay Virginians. We have to be open and welcoming to everyone.”

More Post coverage of the race for Virginia governor.

Cuccinelli dismissed the idea that Virginia’s social policies were hurting its ability to attract businesses. And he took a swipe at GreenTech, the electric car company McAuliffe founded.

“The last time my opponent had a chance to plant a business somewhere, he put it in that bastion of tolerance: Mississippi,” Cuccinelli said.

The Republican nominee also sought to put his record on abortion and women’s health issues in context.

“My track record is one of defending life and families, but you know, it’s not like I overdo this,” Cuccinelli said, eliciting a few chuckles from the audience. He added that he had “proposed compromises over the years” on thorny issues, including last year’s controversial bill requiring women to get ultrasounds before having abortions.

Cuccinelli touted his background as an engineer and a patent lawyer who would not need “on-the-job training” while portraying McAuliffe as an organized-labor ally who lacks specific plans to govern.

While he believes this year’s landmark roads bill was not “great strategic transportation policy,” Cuccinelli reiterated that he had no intention of “going back and revisiting that debate, to undo what’s been done.”

And when the added transportation revenue flows in, Cuccinelli said, “Do you want ‘Union Terry’ spending that money, or ‘Frugal Ken’? That is a huge difference.”

On the Silver Line, Cuccinelli focused on McAuliffe’s long-standing ties to unions, questioning whether McAuliffe would have demanded the removal of an incentive for contractors who use a project labor agreement on the rail project, as McDonnell did.

Asked about project labor agreements after the forum, McAuliffe said, “I have made it crystal clear I’m going to do whatever agreements are in the interests of the commonwealth . . . I will work with business, I will work with labor, I will work with everyone.”

Also, with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to decide a pair of crucial cases regarding same-sex marriage in coming days, McAuliffe was asked by a reporter whether the Virginia Constitution’s ban on gay marriage should be changed.

“If you look at the composure of the legislature, it’s not an issue that I’m going to spend my time focusing on,” McAuliffe said. “It’s not going to change during my four years as governor.”

Asked again whether Virginia should recognize same-sex marriages, McAuliffe reiterated only that the policy wouldn’t change during his term. (He has said previously that he “personally favor[s] civil marriage for committed couples of the same-sex,” while Cuccinelli opposes gay marriage and supports the Virginia ban.)

Both candidates reiterated that they would explore reforming or ending three local taxes — the Business, Professional Occupation Licensing tax, the Machinery and Tool tax and the Merchants Capital tax — though they also have said they don’t want local governments to lose revenue as a result.

Both men also emphasized the need for better workforce training and an increase in the number of science and math graduates, though neither has specified how he would pay for such programs.