Pragmatic Republicans looking to hang onto the governorship in Virginia have been hoping that their nominee, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, would tailor his outspoken conservative views for a more-moderate Old Dominion electorate. But based on excerpts released from his new book, Cuccinelli is making no apologies — and comes out swinging hard against all government entitlement programs.
One telling anecdote: Cuccinelli’s recounting of a time in the 1970s when his uninsured mother was hospitalized for six months. They got help from extended family and friends as Cuccinelli’s father worked to pay off the bills. “It was a painfully difficult time for my parents, but despite the hardship, the last thing my parents thought about doing was asking the government to force other people to pay our bills,” an excerpt in the Politico report said.
Cuccinelli also writes that entitlement programs have been used to make people dependent on the federal government, and while maintaining the constitutionality of Medicare and Social Security, writes that President Bush used the 2003 Medicare expansion and "taxpayer dollars to buy seniors’ votes for his 2004 reelection campaign, pure and simple."
The book, being released on Feb. 12, is the first major event that could shape the trajectory of the Virginia gubernatorial race. The book has opened up a clear line of attack for his Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe, who is trying to cast Cuccinelli as anti-Medicare and anti-Social Security. McAuliffe campaign officials say they expect it to use it to attack Cuccinnelli as being out of the mainstream.
The campaign released a statement Friday describing Cuccinelli’s remarks on Medicare and Social Security as “demeaning to hardworking families.”
“Our next Governor must put aside this kind extreme ideological rhetoric that divides Virginians and insults everyone who has worked hard and paid their taxes,” McAuliffe said.
For its part, the Cuccinelli campaign is accusing Democrats of “cherry picking” portions of the book and making a “baseless attack" on Medicare and Social Security.
“When the full book is available, voters will realize that the statement was taken out of context and that Mr. Cuccinelli supports Medicare and Social Security,” said campaign spokesman Jahan Wilcox.
When asked for a copy of the book in order to get the fuller context, Wilcox responded that it will be available for purchase on Feb. 12.
In a case of curious timing, Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican exploring a run as an independent, this week came out in support of Medicaid expansion so long as it includes federal waivers to let the state reform the program. That’s a reversal of his earlier position. The announcement suggests he’s politically attuned to the implications of Cuccinelli’s comments and is looking to draw a contrast with his GOP rival.
“This is early. The whole race hasn’t formulated yet,” said former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, a moderate Republican. “Some of it depends on what the whole Republican ticket is going to look like. Is it going to be a broad-based ticket representing the whole party?… Will the Republican base fracture, or will the attorney general be able to put the whole coalition together?”
Davis also pointed to Gov. Bob McDonnell's ability to win in the state despite news breaking during the campaign on the contents of his master's thesis, in which he wrote that working women were "detrimental" to families. One big difference, however: McDonnell’s thesis was written nearly two decades before his 2009 campaign.
Playing in Cuccinelli’s favor: In Virginia, voters traditionally vote against the president’s party in gubernatorial elections. Davis said atmospherics and President Obama’s approval ratings will be as important as Cuccinelli’s writings come November.
Also, Cuccinelli has always been conservative, and he’s won a number of times before in Virginia. It wouldn’t be wise to write-off his prospects, even if the book does damage. “A lot of Democrats have gone to the graveyard underestimating Ken Cuccinelli,” Davis said.