RICHMOND — Virginia Democrats’ newly minted statewide ticket appeared together for the first time Wednesday, with candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general portraying themselves as mainstream alternatives to the Republicans’ “tea party ticket.”
State Sen. Ralph S. Northam (Norfolk), the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. Mark R. Herring (Loudoun), its choice for attorney general, appeared on a Richmond theater stage with gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
“Our party is as unified as it has ever been,” McAuliffe, who ran unopposed, told a crowd of about 125 people who gathered at the Hippodrome Theater.
The event came one day after Democratic primary voters chose Northam and Herring over former U.S. chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra and former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax. Chopra and Fairfax appeared onstage with the ticket and announced that they would serve as co-chairs of the party’s coordinated campaign.
The scene was in stark contrast to what played out for Republicans last month when they assembled a statewide ticket that gave party insiders a jolt. At the party convention, Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson beat a field of six better-known, better-funded candidates for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor. After that upset came a string of reports about controversial statements Jackson had made, including some condemning gays and linking yoga with Satan.
Where Republican convention-goers chose a fiery political outsider to run with gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli II and attorney general hopeful Mark D. Obenshain, Democrat primary voters picked two well-known and relatively laid-back state senators as McAuliffe’s running mates.
Northam and Herring could bring to the ticket the heft of legislative experience — something that McAuliffe, who has never held elective office, lacks. Mild-mannered deskmates in the Senate chamber, Northam and Herring are not expected to shake up the race with the sort of rhetoric that Jackson has offered.
What remains to be seen is whether they can sufficiently stir the passions of the Democratic base to get them to the polls in November. Political observers have wondered the same about McAuliffe, who finished second in the Democratic primary for governor four years ago. Neither of his two running mates supported him in that bid.
The Republican ticket, meanwhile, has impassioned support among the GOP activists who typically turn out in off-year elections. Cuccinelli, the current attorney general, has endeared himself to the tea party with legal battles against the federal government. Obenshain, a state senator from Harrisonburg, has stood with Cuccinelli in those fights.
At the polls Tuesday, many primary voters said they could have been happy with any of the Democrats who were running for lieutenant governor and attorney general.
“I could have flipped a coin,” David Karp, a 63-year-old lawyer, said after casting his ballot in suburban Richmond swing territory.
Some Democrats, while content with their ticket, were more passionate about defeating the Republicans.
“I would rather have that stop sign than Cuccinelli as governor,” said Ryan Shannon, 27, a Henrico County lawyer, motioning to a sign in the parking lot at his polling place.
Democrats made it clear at their gathering Wednesday that they will try to link Cuccinelli and Obenshain to some of Jackson’s more controversial statements.
“We’ve heard a lot about the rhetoric,” said Herring, a lawyer who has been in the Senate since 2006. “Well, Mark Obenshain votes like E.W. Jackson talks.”
Northam, a pediatric neurologist who has been in the Senate since 2008, said Republicans’ positions on social issues threaten the state’s economic well-being.
“This state, in order to have business, in order to welcome people, we need to be all inclusive,” Northam said. “That starts with stopping the attack on women. Discrimination against the LGBT community needs to stop.”
Dave Rexrode, Cuccinelli’s campaign manager, said the Democratic ticket was the one beholden to ideology.
“Whether it’s their support for ObamaCare and billions in tax hikes, hostility to Virginia coal and offshore oil exploration, or openness to altering the Commonwealth’s right-to-work status, there’s no question that the 2013 Democrat ticket will be among the most liberal in Virginia history,” he said in a statement. “If elected, all three candidates will seek to advance ideologically driven, Washington, DC policies that will only exacerbate the uncertainty felt by so many job creators across the Commonwealth.”