Virginia Shadow-Boxing: Governor’s Race Growing Uglier

Photograph by Joe Mahoney/The Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP Photo

Virginia gubernatorial hopefuls Republican Ken Cuccinelli, left, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe share a lighter moment after appearing at a luncheon sponsored by the Virginia Public Access Project, on May 30, 2013 in Richmond, Va.

The Virginia governor’s race, the marquee contest of an otherwise mostly uneventful political year, is devolving into an increasingly ugly one. And at this point, the rivals aren’t even waiting for a punch to land before counter-punching.

Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s team held a conference call today to respond preemptively to a new attack ad by Democrats, which Cuccinelli’s spokeswoman described as an effort by challenger Terry McAuliffe, the former national Democratic Party chairman, and his allies to use “war on women” rhetoric to unfairly disparage her candidate.

The ad, spokeswoman Anna Nix said, is “completely baseless.”

Yet while the campaign had seen the spot’s script, neither Nix nor any of the five other Republican women from around the commonwealth who joined the call to speak in support of Cuccinelli had actually seen the commercial, which had yet to air.

“We have kind of an idea of where this ad is going, and we want to be very proactive and support Ken,” said Roxann Robinson, a Chesterfield delegate who praised Cuccinelli’s record and said critics were trying to suggest that his work “to protect life at all stages and stand up for traditional marriages is somehow waging a war on women.”

Roz Bellis of Alexandria said the ad was an example “of desperate Democrats wanting to skew the facts and to scare the voters, and female voters particularly.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia’s 30-second commercial — released a couple of hours after Cuccinelli’s campaign responded to it — features a female narrator criticizing Cuccinelli for being one of only three attorneys general in the nation to decline to sign on to a 2012 letter urging Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which strengthens penalties for and provides government money to prosecute violent crimes against women.

“Ken Cuccinelli — he’s focused on his own agenda, not us,” the narrator concludes.

Some conservative Republican members of Congress opposed a version of the measure passed by the Senate in 2012 because it extended protections to same-sex couples and granted visas to battered immigrant women who were residing unlawfully in the United States.

In a statement released today, Cuccinelli touted his work to combat sexual assault, human trafficking and child pornography, without detailing his position on the Violence Against Women Act.

“I expected my opponents to engage in petty and false attacks, but this new ad is simply beyond the pale,” the statement said. “No matter what false attacks come my way, I will never stop fighting to protect Virginia’s women and children from violence, and it’s ludicrous to think otherwise.”

A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia declined to detail how much was spent on the spot. The Virginian-Pilot reported the state party had purchased $275,000 worth of TV advertising time for this weekend, shortly after McAuliffe’s campaign transferred $300,000 to the party.

Democrats have made little secret of the fact they plan to try to use Cuccinelli’s stances on social issues — particularly his opposition to abortion rights — as a cudgel in the gubernatorial race, in which the women’s vote will be crucial. The Republican has labored to maintain a focus on economic issues in the race, charging that McAuliffe has no agenda for promoting growth in the state.

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