Cuccinelli, McAuliffe continue war of words
McAuliffe avoid gaffe, wins by default, Skelley says
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe met for a Virginia gubernatorial election debate Wednesday in Fairfax County. Each candidate continued a recent trend of negative campaigning, personally attacking the other’s views on health care, women’s issues and gun rights.
McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, sought to portray Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee, as a militant social conservative. Cuccinelli said McAuliffe was inexperienced and not connected to Virginia and its politics.
According to the poll aggregator site Real Clear Politics Average, prior to the debate McAuliffe led Cuccinelli 43.1 percent to 38.9 percent, largely thanks to his success with women voters.
“Recent polls have had McAuliffe up by as much as 24 points among women, which is why he has a lead in this race,” Center for Politics spokesperson Geoffrey Skelley said.
McAuliffe continued to attack Cuccinelli on women’s issues during the debate.
“Forty-seven attorney generals signed a letter [urging Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act],” McAuliffe said. “Violence against women [is] not controversial. [Cuccinelli] is one of three who refused to sign it … [He] bullied the board of health to shut down several women’s health centers.”
Cuccinelli responded with examples of the work he has done to protect women. “We run multiple domestic violence programs in the Attorney General’s office,” he said. “And we started from scratch fighting human trafficking.”
University Democrats President Madeline DuCharme, a third-year College student, said she supported McAuliffe’s commitment to protecting women’s rights.
“[McAuliffe] showed that Cuccinelli has an extreme ideological agenda that would only move Virginia backward,” DuCharme said in an email.
Given the recent tragedy of the Navy Yard Shooting, the moderator asked candidates about their priorities for Virginia gun laws.
“When we drop our children off at school, we want to know that our communities are safe,” McAuliffe said. “How many people have to be killed until we have to wake up and have sensible gun ownership?”
McAuliffe supports universal background checks for gun purchases. He said, in his experience, they only take a few minutes. Cuccinelli opposes those checks as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
When discussing gun tragedies, Cuccinelli focused on mental illness, pointing to the work he has done with people suffering from mental illness throughout the years.
After that discussion, McAuliffe then brought the debate back to health care and the Affordable Care Act, which he had emphasized earlier in the debate. As a part of the Affordable Care Act Virginia has the choice to expand its Medicaid program, providing insurance for low-income individuals and families. Republicans are concerned with the cost of expansion.
“Without the Medicaid expansion money, there’s not a penny for any new investment in mental health,” McAuliffe said.
Cuccinelli, however, said it would be more beneficial to improve the current Medicaid system for the people already enrolled.
“A 40 percent expansion in Medicaid will not help these poor families,” he said. “We are trying desperately to keep the doctors and nurses in our program.”
The debate again derailed into the candidates trading barbed insults, with McAuliffe criticizing Cuccinelli’s record on same-sex marriage, in what Cuccinelli said was an “offensively false” attack.
“[Cuccinelli] called homosexuals soulless and self-destructive human beings,” McAuliffe said. “The idea that we could send our men and women across the globe [for military service], and they come back and don’t have the same rights and opportunities, is quite wrong.”
Cuccinelli, who believes marriage should remain “based on one man and one woman,” said he will continue to defend the laws of Virginia, which include a provision against gay marriage.
“[McAuliffe] seems to think he gets to decide which parts of the Virginia Constitution you get to defend as the governor,” Cuccinelli said.
College Republicans Chair Elizabeth Minneman, a third-year College student, said the gay marriage debate should not be a primary factor in Virginia voters’ Election-Day decision.
“Gay marriage is not an issue that the governor’s office would deal with — it’s up to the Virginian people,” Minneman said.
To get voters’ attention and to inspire a major shift in the current polling numbers, Skelley said Cuccinelli would need McAuliffe to make a detrimental political misstep.
“Overall, you might say McAuliffe won [the debate] by not suffering a major loss because he did nothing to risk his lead in the polls,” Skelley said.
The final debate for the gubernatorial race is scheduled for Oct. 24 on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg.