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The GOP's Conservative Cuccinelli Problem

The Virginia attorney general is calling Republican headliners for backup as he slips in the polls. But his far-right positions make for an awkward alliance with the national party.


Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli speaks to seniors at Ashby Ponds retirement community in Ashburn, Va.(Richard A. Bloom)

ASHBURN, Va.—Down in the polls and out-raised by his opponent, Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli is increasingly relying on the national party to come to his rescue.

In the past two months, the Republican Governors Association has spent $3.6 million on television ads in the state, on top of the $2 million doled out to the campaign earlier this year. Three of the GOP's biggest stars, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, are all expected to campaign for Cuccinelli this fall, with Rubio scheduled to come to Virginia next month.


It's a mutually beneficial but awkward relationship between the nominee and the national political establishment. Republicans--including the three potential 2016 contenders--want to keep their grip on the highest office in a major battleground state. Not to mention that the GOP is gunning to repudiate Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, a former national party chairman closely tied to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"If you care about conservative values and getting our country back on track, this race should matter to YOU, even if you don't live in Virginia," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, chairman of the RGA and another possible 2016 candidate, in a recent fundraising appeal.

But the national party's much-ballyhooed goal of winning over more minorities and women on the road to the White House doesn't always line up with Cuccinelli's fiercely conservative track record. The mismatch was evident Tuesday, when the attorney general was asked about Rubio's bill to allow millions of illegal immigrants to earn citizenship. Some Republican leaders say the bill will pave crucial inroads into the fast-growing Hispanic community.


"I don't support amnesty, if that's what you mean, but I certainly support a focus on the rule of law," Cuccinelli said in a visit to the Ashby Ponds retirement community. He added he hadn't read the bill: "I'm running for governor. That is a state office."

Cuccinelli's explanation doesn't mesh with his longtime practice of wading into national debates over immigration, health care, and climate change. For example, as a state senator running for reelection in 2007, Cuccinelli sent out a fundraising appeal describing his fervent opposition to a similar immigration reform bill touted by then-President Bush. "My President is wrong," reads the e-mail. "I no longer consider him the head of my Republican Party." Cuccinelli also warned: "If Washington compounds its historic irresponsibility on the issue of illegal immigration by passing the proposed bill, there will be a bi-partisan/non-partisan political explosion the likes of which we have not seen in some time."

Rubio's office did not respond to a request for comment about Cuccinelli's position on the current bill. Proponents say it will create jobs, as many as 14,000 in each congressional district, according to the Republican-leaning American Action Network.

"Ken Cuccinelli continues to demonstrate that his extreme ideology comes before bipartisan compromise," said McAuliffe spokesman Brennan Bilberry. "Cuccinelli is again focused on derailing a pragmatic bipartisan compromise that is critical for Virginia's economy because of his ideological opposition." 


Cuccinelli has also opposed a new state law awarding $600 million for roads and other transportation improvements because it will raise taxes.

The attorney general's conservativism also came up Tuesday in a question from one of the residents of the retirement community about his position on birth control.

"I don't think government should be doing anything about birth control or birth-control devices," Cuccinelli said.

"So the rumors that you would support birth-control restriction are false?'' asked resident Johnanna Bonnelycke.

"I wouldn't call them rumors. I'd call them lies," Cuccinelli responded.

His remarks drew a swift response from McAuliffe's allies in the Democratic Party and the abortion-rights movement, who pointed to his 2007 "personhood" bill that declared that life begins at fertilization and could have outlawed some birth control.

The governor's race has been characterized by brutal attacks by both sides and left Cuccinelli lagging 6 points behind McAuliffe in the latest Quinnipiac poll. McAuliffe has weathered a string of negative publicity about his business record, including a federal probe into a bid for foreign investors by his former electric-car company, GreenTech. Cuccinelli has also endured bad press, particularly about his ties to a businessman whose relationship with fellow Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is under federal investigation. Cuccinelli has tried to separate himself from the matter and was cleared of ethics violations, but he's been hit hard by attack ads linking him to the scandal.

"One of the problems with being outspent is that it's awfully hard to push back," said Cuccinelli, who was trailing McAuliffe by $5 million in donations at the end of June.

Another resident of the senior center, Bill Vitale, told Cuccinelli not to worry about the television spots. "Shortly after they're on, people can't remember what they're about anyway," he said, adding that "I think you'll be a fine governor."

Cuccinelli didn't hesitate to take several shots at McAuliffe during his appearance Tuesday in a key swing county in Northern Virginia. He described the race as between "frugal Ken versus union Terry," referring to the hundreds of thousands of dollars the Democrat has accepted from labor. Cuccinelli also noted that he's held elected office in Virginia for a decade while McAuliffe has never served in public office.

"There's an assumption that they've already been contributing to their community that they're asking to lead, and in my race, that assumption is not true," he said. "I'm the only candidate that's been doing that in Virginia."

This article appears in the August 29, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.

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