|The major-party gubernatorial candidates, Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, will square off Thursday night for their third and final debate before the Nov. 5 election.|
The 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race has not, for many voters, been a particularly inspiring one.
Either major-party candidate – Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general, or Democrat Terry McAuliffe – will arrive at the governor's mansion with a heap of baggage that has been the focus of this consistently negative political season.
The two men so disillusioned scribes on the Richmond Times-Dispatch's editorial board that the newspaper declined to endorse anyone for governor – the first time the publication, one of the largest dailies in Virginia, opted to do so.
Another major newspaper, the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, endorsed a write-in candidacy for Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican.
Nevertheless, the fact remains: In a little more than two months Virginians will be served by a Gov. Cuccinelli or a Gov. McAuliffe (barring a stunning upset by Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis).
To win, McAuliffe will have to defy a decades-running streak in commonwealth politics. Since 1977, Virginia has voted in a governor from the opposite party of the president elected the previous year.
That plays well for Cuccinelli, who in terms of government experience, holds a vast edge over McAuliffe. Prior to his four years as the state's top lawyer, Cuccinelli served two terms in the Senate of Virginia.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, has never held elected office. The Democrat was a chief fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and has been involved in Democratic politics for decades.
McAuliffe describes himself as a “very fiscally conservative, pro-business Democrat” who's “very progressive” on social issues.
"Terry's support for commonsense policies that will strengthen Virginia's economic future -- including the bipartisan transportation compromise earlier this year -- has encouraged a growing number of mainstream Republicans and business leaders, including Republican former Delegate and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Vincent Callahan and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's political arm, to endorse Terry," said McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin.
Cuccinelli's positive pitch to voters includes his record of securing hundreds of millions of dollars for state coffers through Medicaid fraud cases and rigorously fighting human trafficking, gangs and child predators. The Republican has also been endorsed by a major Northern Virginia business group, the Northern Virginia Technology Council TechPAC.
“Ken is running for governor so that every Virginian will have the opportunity to experience the dignity of work and ensure that Virginia’s cities, towns and local communities remain strong and vibrant places to live, work and raise a family,” said Cuccinelli campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix. “He will be a Governor that will fight for all Virginians."
Yet for Cuccinelli's detractors – including most Democrats and even a pack of prominent Republicans – the attorney general's pros are negated by his hard-line views on abortion and his hostility to equal rights for the LGBT community. Cuccinelli is firmly pro-life and supports the commonwealth's ban on gay marriage.
Moreover, the Republican firebrand's highly-publicized legal fight against the federal government's Affordable Care Act and his subpoena for documents from a University of Virginia climate researcher are fodder for critics who claim he's far from the Virginia's mainstream.
On the other side, the McAuliffe campaign has been consistently plagued with detrimental headlines about the candidate's business dealings. Although the Democrat boasts himself as a businessman and entrepreneur, Republicans have hammered home the fact that two of McAuliffe's most recent ventures – GreenTech Automotive and Franklin Pellets – have fallen woefully short of expectations.
That hasn't stopped McAuliffe from frequently touting his experience in the business world, which includes becoming the youngest chairman of a federally chartered bank, Federal City National Bank, at age 30, and investments in the telecommunications and green energy industries.
On jobs and the economy, McAuliffe has made Medicaid expansion a key component of his growth plan, arguing that growing the program under Obamacare will creates tens of thousands of jobs and bring billions of federal taxpayer dollars back to the commonwealth. The Democrat also believes the federal cash will free up more general fund dollars for education and public safety.
Medicaid expansion is one of the starkest contrasts between the candidates: While McAuliffe fully supports it, Cuccinelli opposes any expansion before cost-saving reforms are implemented.
The 2013 transportation funding bill is another key talking point of the race. Cuccinelli opposed the landmark bill that launched new revenues for transit to the state for the first time since 1986, while McAuliffe has consistently advocated for the plan.
Back to the economy as a whole, a major bullet point of Cuccinelli's jobs plan includes reducing the state's business tax rate from 6 percent to 4 percent and dropping the income tax rate for individuals from 5.75 percent to 5 percent.
That 4 percent mark would bring Virginia in line with the most competitive rates in the country.
Despite each candidate providing a well-honed platform, however, the mudslinging from both sides has largely drowned out the positive messaging. Speaking about the harsh tone of this year's race, one well-respected political watcher said it's unprecedented.
“There have been very negative campaigns before, and occasionally a candidate had high unfavorable ratings. But never has there been a contest like this, at least for governor in Virginia, with both the Democrat and the Republican so unpopular,” Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told the Times-Mirror. “People come up to me in grocery stores and gas stations to tell me how disgusted they are with both major-party candidates – though many seem to add, 'I'll vote for McAuliffe just to stop Cuccinelli.' And that is Ken's main problem.”