Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Virginia Governor's Race: Down, Dirty, and a Gigantic Mess

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Virginia Governor's Race: Down, Dirty, and a Gigantic Mess

Article excerpt

During off-election years, the political class regularly watches the gubernatorial race in Virginia, a swing state that has backed President Obama twice and President George W. Bush before him, for signs of the national climate's evolution.

So far the 2013 contest, pitting two fierce partisans against each other at a time when the incumbent Republican governor is under federal investigation, has proven nothing if not entertaining. It's gotten so down and dirty, in fact, that Virginia's Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) called the race for governor "disgusting" Thursday and issued a plea for at least one of the two candidates to step "above the fray" to "elevate the discussion."

Who, then, are the players, and, this year, should they and the battle for the state's top job matter to voters outside of the Commonwealth?

The Democrats have fielded former Democratic National Committee chief Terry McAuliffe. Mr. McAuliffe, who lives just outside of Washington in McLean, Va., ran for governor unsuccessfully in 2009. A powerful party moneyman during the 1990s and longtime regular on the Sunday chat shows, he counts former President Clinton as his golfing partner and tight buddy. McAuliffe is exuberant, unpredictable, affluent, and provides decades of quotes his opponents can mine for fodder against him. Adversaries view him as a political animal, first and foremost, and question his ties to the state and knowledge of its issues.

Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, deemed a "hero of the religious right" by National Journal, made headlines for challenging Mr. Obama's health-care law in court. A father of seven, he is a tea party favorite who has pursued a two-year investigation against a prominent climate change researcher at the University of Virginia, until the Virginia Supreme Court derailed it, and railed against abortion and gay marriage. He is generally viewed as out-of- step with the modern moderate bent of much of the state. Adversaries, even those in his own party, recall that during his seven-year stint in the state Senate, Mr. Cuccinelli was "uncompromising" - and they didn't mean it as a compliment. They dubbed him "Crazy Cuccinelli" and "Kook-inelli," according to NPR.

"These two are running against the only people they could beat," says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

With deeper ties to the conservative state convention attendees who pick the GOP nominee, Cuccinelli forced the more moderate Mr. Bolling out of the contest, and McAuliffe, meanwhile, was the only Democrat who wanted the job.

But both men are mired in legal dramas of their own making all while the state's incumbent Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) faces a federal investigation about gifts (a Rolex watch, catering for his daughter's wedding, clothes for his wife) and money he received from a wealthy Virginia businessman and did not report. …

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