Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gives a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord Hotel National Harbor in Oxon Hill on March 14. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse frequently takes to the Senate floor to warn against climate change, having done so, by his count, at least two dozen times in the past year. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Rhode Island Democrat got around to calling out Virginia’s most prominent global-warming skeptic by name.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, got a backhanded shout-out in a Whitehouse floor speech last week for his unsuccessful legal battle against a University of Virginia climate scientist.

“In 2010, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli used his powers of office to harass former University of Virginia climatologist Michael Mann and 39 other climate scientists and staff,” Whitehouse said in a speech Thursday, which was posted on YouTube. “As a U-Va. grad, I am proud that the university fought back against this political attack on science and on academic freedom.”

Cuccinelli’s campaign responded to Whitehouse’s comment by suggesting that Terry McAuliffe, his likely Democratic opponent in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), had put the senator up to making the comment.

“Once again it’s obvious Terry McAuliffe doesn’t understand anything about Virginia — or the job he wants so badly,” Cuccinelli spokesman Jahan Wilcox said via email. “First he thought about running for governor of New York — then Florida — now he’s deputized a liberal U.S. Senator from Rhode Island to attack Ken Cuccinelli.”

McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin responded: “Cuccinelli’s campaign against science got national headlines and was an embarrassment for Virginia. It’s no surprise that people all around the country heard about the partisan, ideological battles he was waging out of the Attorney General’s office.”

In 2010, using a state law designed to ensnare public employees who were defrauding the government, Cuccinelli demanded copies of Mann’s grant applications and correspondence with other scientists. Cuccinelli was investigating whether Mann had obtained public grants by using data manipulated to indicated that there had been a recent spike in the Earth’s temperature.

Mann had been the focus of global-warming skeptics after leaked emails showed another scientist referring to a statistical “trick” Mann had used in his research. Mann has said the e-mail was taken out of context, and that by “trick,” the scientist had meant a “clever solution.” Fellow scientists had criticized some of his methodology, but several inquiries, including one by the National Science Foundation, found no evidence that Mann had falsified or suppressed data.