In bitter sparring tonight between Virginia’s two gubernatorial candidates in their first and only televised debate, there was one glimmer of common ground — disenchantment with politicos in Washington.
Both Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe distanced themselves from the gridlock in the nation’s capital over the federal budget, each breaking with their parties to condemn their side’s no-compromise stance.
Cuccinelli, scheduled to attend a fundraiser next week with Senator Ted Cruz, put distance between himself and the Texas Republican who staged a 21-hour-plus talkathon to draw attention to the quest to block any government spending bill that fails to defund President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.
Cruz “finished a sort of filibuster today, and you know, at some point you’ve got to vote,” Cuccinelli said during the prime-time debate in McLean, Virginia, sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. “I’d like to see Obamacare pulled out of federal law, but you know, we’ve got to keep moving forward and make compromises to get the budget bill.”
McAuliffe, for his part, suggested Obama shares blame for the current deadlock.
“It’s a disgrace what’s going on in Washington — I place a pox on everybody’s house,” McAuliffe said. “Until we get it resolved, I say shame on everybody.”
Six weeks before Election Day in the nation’s most competitive 2013 political contest, the hour-long exchange shed little new light on a race that has been negative from the start. Instead, the evening’s back-and-forth sevred mostly to underscore the unappealing stereotypes both contenders have been battling all year.
Recent polls have shown McAuliffe leading the race, powered largely by a lopsided advantage over Cuccinelli among women voters. A Washington Post survey put the Democrat ahead, 49 percent to 44 percent, while an NBC/Marist Poll also gave McAuliffe a five-percentage-point advantage, 43 percent to 38 percent.
McAuliffe, working to capitalize on the gender gap, portrayed Cuccinelli as a culture warrior whose policies and positions would harm women.
Cuccinelli “has spent most of his career on a social, ideological agenda,” he said at the debate’s start, later charging that the attorney general had launched a “mean-spirited attack” on women and homosexuals in Virginia.
The Republican responded by painting McAuliffe as an unprincipled Washington wheeler-dealer who would be clueless as Virginia’s chief executive.
“If Terry’s elected governor, we’re gonna have to change the state motto from `Sic Semper Tyrannis’ to `Quid Pro Quo,’ Cuccinelli said. “It’s hard to find inefficiencies in a government you don’t understand, and Terry McAuliffe doesn’t know how Virginia government works.”
The two clashed over issues including gun restrictions and gay rights. Cuccinelli rejected the idea of enacting additional firearm laws, and said he continued to believe that “the institution of marriage should remain between one man and one woman.” McAuliffe said he favored universal background checks for gun purchases and would use his office to advocate for marriage equality and institute anti-discrimination laws to protect gays.
In a debate marked by commercial breaks that highlighted wall-to-wall attack ads by both campaigns and outside groups who have entered the fray, the candidates even differed over when school should start.
McAuliffe said “the tourism industry is too important” to change Virginia’s so-called King’s Dominion law — named for the theme park — that mandates a school start-date after Labor Day.
Cuccinelli disagreed. “Children,” he said, “outrank tourism.”