Prime-Time Debate Gives McAuliffe, Cuccinelli Chance to Sway Voters

Article excerpt

Byline: David Sherfinski, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II could be getting their last, best chance to sway undecided Virginia voters Wednesday when they take the stage in a prime-time, televised debate hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. McAuliffe has emerged with a slight edge in recent polling from a summer mostly notable for a fusillade of attack ads and the message from both camps that not only is their guy better, but the other candidate is simply not fit to be Virginia's 72nd governor.

The latest RealClearPolitics polling average gives Mr. McAuliffe, formerly the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a 4-point lead over Mr. Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general, at 43 percent to 39 percent. Many voters say they're undecided and some have indicated they'll instead opt for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, who will not be on the stage Wednesday.

Mr. Cuccinelli has recently adopted a general theme that even if voters don't agree with him on every issue, they'll always know where he stands as the GOP has tried to seize on Mr. McAuliffe's shifting positions on issues like energy, immigration and health care.

The Republican will need to do more of that Wednesday to combat the McAuliffe campaign's attempt to highlight his positions on social issues like abortion and gay rights, said Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor and longtime observer of state politics.

[Wednesday] night, Ken Cuccinelli has to be seen as a credible candidate, not a caricature, Mr. Holsworth said Tuesday in an online conference call hosted by the nonpartisan Virginia Prosperity Project. And that's probably a bar that he should be able to achieve. But whether or not that'll get enough play and whether a statewide debate for governor has the kind of impact that a presidential debate can have is another question altogether.

The McAuliffe campaign, as it did before the first debate in July, played up Mr. Cuccinelli's skills as a debater Tuesday.

Cuccinelli's campaign has repeatedly elevated debates as the one place where they believe they have a decisive advantage. …