Right next to the “Women for Ken” Cuccinelli table outside the McLean farmers market was the competition, whose sassy homemade signs said, “Smart Women 4 McAuliffe.”
“Wonder where the dumb women for McAuliffe are,” one Republican volunteer said under her breath. Those signs are “so insulting,” said another.
Yet in the overwhelmingly negative Virginia gubernatorial race, both groups Friday were behaving a lot more agreeably in Lewinsville Park than their candidates are just about anywhere.
In fact, as Greater McLean Republican Women’s Club president Anne Gruner was setting up her table Friday, laying out her “Women for Ken” stickers and fact sheets, a man walking by suddenly swooped close to her face and started screaming, cursing and calling her a “terrorist.”
None of her comrades had arrived yet, but before you could say, ‘Sir, you are no gentleman,’ here came the “Smart Women 4 McAuliffe.” Democratic volunteer Patricia Scott told the guy to get lost — and after circling back to lob a few last threats, he did.
Scott said that Gruner had saved her own bacon by telling the man she was calling the police: “Just by saying that, she deterred him.” But Gruner, understandably shaken by the incident, insisted otherwise: “These Democratic ladies ran to my defense! We have different views, but we get along maybe better than the people on Capitol Hill.”
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli never seem to tire of insulting each other, with the former Democratic National Committee chairman painting the attorney general as a single-minded extremist on social issues and full-time warrior against women. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, charges that the Clinton pal and fundraiser is both unserious and untruthful — the sort of hack who lies just to keep his skills up.
The race remains close, with McAuliffe leading by five and seven points in the two most recent polls. Women have been providing the Democrat with his edge all along; they support McAuliffe 47 to 32 over Cuccinelli in a new Hampton University survey. So what’s a Woman for Ken to do? Get out there every day and explain herself, of course, and try to sway the people who are still trying to decide.
And there are a lot of those. Although the two men are miles apart on policy, many Virginians don’t seem to consider either a dream candidate: “He doesn’t captivate me,” Peggy Coleman said of her choice, McAuliffe, on her way into the market. “I’m not overly fond of either,” said Angela Bullock, who’s leaning toward Cuccinelli, as she carried away some heirloom tomatoes, a bag of apples and her 2-year-old son.
Although some people who came out for the veggies sprinted past Team Terry and Team Ken, race-walking toward the organic beets or fresh bread, some did stop to listen.
Retired McLean obstetrician-gynecologist Dean Martin — yes, like the “That’s Amore” singer, although “I had it first,” he says — was won over by Cuccinelli supporter Jill Cook, who answered his question about the Republican’s “extreme abortion views” with an argument that the governor doesn’t have any say about that issue.
“The fact that the governor has no control over the women’s issues with which I’m concerned” closed the sale, he said — especially after hearing from Cook about Cuccinelli’s “priority of jobs and the economy as opposed to more superficial issues. Though,” he added before driving away, “I’m not thrilled with either candidate.” (The governor does have veto power over any laws regarding women that the legislature enacts.)
Every woman who said she was voting for Cuccinelli mentioned that he would lower taxes, and every one supporting McAuliffe mentioned abortion rights. The Cook Political Report found that McAuliffe’s campaign has spent more of his ad dollars highlighting abortion rights than anything else — 26 percent focuse on women’s rights and social issues, and 16 percent on energy issues, mostly fracking. A third of Cuccinelli ads are about jobs, 20 percent deal with manufacturing and 8 percent speak on taxes.
On a personal level, voters like to feel as though someone has listened to them. And Cuccinelli volunteer Andrea DelVecchio is very good at that. She tells a woman who’s mad at Congress that “Ken understands people have to work together.” To someone who says she likes the mental health coverage included in Obamacare, she says, “You’re an independent thinker, and Ken Cuccinelli as a law student worked in a halfway house for men who were mentally deficient; Ken was there.” (He doesn’t, however, support the expansion of Medicaid, which has been rejected by the current governor, Robert F. McDonnell (R), and has strongly opposed the new health-care law.)
DelVecchio also tells the story of how Cuccinelli, as an undergrad at the University of Virginia, started a support group for victims of sexual assault after a female housemate was attacked. That group continues today, DelVecchio said.
Later in the morning, a guy staffing the Democratic table ventured that the very idea of being a “pro-Cuccinelli woman” is oxymoronic. That kind of attitude, said 22-year-old Rachel Green, only deepens her commitment: “I get a lot of assumptions from the party that’s supposed to be open-minded,’’ she said, adding that she supports Cuccinelli not in spite of his record on women, but because of it.
Several of the Women for Ken said they never bring up abortion and rarely engage when asked about it: “I try not to, because I don’t think it’s relevant,” said Jill Cook, a Yale graduate who grew up in Connecticut.
Yet unlike either campaign as a whole, they also prefer to talk up their candidate rather than insult his rival. The worst they were heard to say all morning of McAuliffe was: “He’s not from Virginia.” And: “I heard he’d rather be ambassador to Ireland.” And, as even McAuliffe might acknowledge, “What an ego.”
Also unlike the candidates they support, both groups of women seem to be under the impression that, although the race is serious, it can also be fun.
Week after week on Friday mornings, sitting not quite side-by-side under a big oak tree across from the market, “We get along,” said Scott, the Democrat who had come to her adversary’s rescue earlier. And, perhaps not incidentally, “There’s good food.”