By Peter Galuszka

“Fantastic,” says Terry McAuliffe as he listens to officials at the Culpeper, Va., campus of Germanna Community College talk about projects ranging from designing machine controls to a weight-loss competition. The tall, curly-haired McLean businessman — a Democrat who wants to be Virginia’s next governor — walks through a campus building while tossing out a barrage of questions and furiously taking notes. “I’m going to help with you with that, Ben,” he says to one teacher. “These community colleges are just jewels,” he remarks to another.

The visit to the Germanna campus, on which I tagged along in February, is part of McAuliffe’s effort to cast himself as a moderate jobs creator in a head-to-head campaign against firebrand Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II. The off-year race is already attracting national attention as Republicans seek to turn the page from their drubbing in the 2012 elections. The media are watching closely to see how Cuccinelli will play his hand — how much will he tone down the rhetoric that’s made him a star on the right? — and a flood of out-of-state money is expected to flow to both candidates.

“My focus is all on economic development,” McAuliffe says flatly. “It’s job-creation, and that’s why I am touring every community college in Virginia. That is my focus — to bring mainstream, pro-business ideas. My opponent’s more into a social, ideological agenda.”

This bread-and-butter strategy is as obvious as it is essential. Early polls show the two candidates running neck and neck, but Cuccinelli has assets that could give him an edge: experience in state government and a better-known name. News this week that Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling doesn’t have the cash to mount an independent bid only puts more pressure on McAuliffe to reach beyond the safely anti-Cuccinelli, Democratic base. University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato and his colleagues noted that Bolling’s decision leaves the state with “two deeply flawed candidates” who “have limited positive appeal.”

McAuliffe indeed has baggage to overcome. In decisively losing the Democratic primary for governor in 2009 to underwhelming state Sen. Creigh Deeds, he was unable to shake off an image as a hard-charging Democratic Party operative and former fundraiser for Bill Clinton. More recently, the Connecticut-born banker-turned-entrepreneur has been criticized for locating a hybrid-car factory in Mississippi instead of Virginia — a story line that offers an obvious counterattack to his Virginia-jobs-first appeal.

McAuliffe clearly will have to contend again with accusations that he is a carpetbagger out of touch with Virginia’s problems. The Cuccinelli campaign played that card this month when it ridiculed McAuliffe for urging in a tweet from Florida that Virginia residents take care as snow approached. McAuliffe’s answer is to stress his Old Dominion ties: “My wife and I have lived in the same home in Northern Virginia for 21 years,” he says. “We have five children. I want our children to stay here and have jobs.”

This outsider problem may actually be less than meets the eye. Plenty of successful Virginia politicians did not grow up in the Old Dominion. One is none other than hugely popular Democrat Mark Warner, an Indiana-born entrepreneur who ran Douglas Wilder’s 1989 campaign for governor before becoming a successful governor himself and then a U.S. senator.

Warner’s brand of tech-savvy centrism clearly has not been lost on McAuliffe. As he steps through classrooms at Germanna, he regularly brings up Warner’s name. He also praises fellow Democrat Tim Kaine, another former governor who became a U.S. senator, and even Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, as pro-business leaders. In contrast with Cuccinelli, McAuliffe backs McDonnell’s breakthrough with the General Assembly that produced the first real money for roads since 1986. “I’ve got to give Gov. McDonnell credit for keeping the discussion going,” he says.

The big question is whether identifying with practical politicians such as McDonnell will be enough to distance independents and moderate Republican voters — who might be turned off by McAuliffe’s deep history with the Democratic Party — from Cuccinelli and the tea party movement that stands with him.

Cuccinelli may be wondering the same thing. Lately, he seems to be avoiding inflammatory rhetoric (there was hardly a reference to gays, abortion or any other social flashpoint to be found in his recent book about constitutional federalism). He might be wise to stick to that approach. McAuliffe is clearly planning to pounce if Cuccinelli goes rogue.

“I always say the most important family value you can have is a job,” McAuliffe says at the end of his community college tour. “There’s a real difference between us, and we can’t be sending out signals with a social-ideological agenda that says that people aren’t wanted. We can’t divide people. We’ve got to unite them.”

(Note: This is article appears in the Local Opinions section of The Washington Post)

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17 responses to “McAuliffe Pitches Jobs vs. Ideology”

  1. I hate to say it but if I went to a car lot or a furniture store and a guy that looked and acted like Terry McAuliffe showed up… I’d probably leave.


    1. Ghost of Ted Dalton Avatar
      Ghost of Ted Dalton

      I hate the “NoVa v. RoVa” meme, but the problem with McAuliffe is that there is a kernel of truth to it.

      McAuliffe is a Washingtonian first and foremost. He’s always on talk shows. He’s a former DNC chair. His claim to fame is being close to Bill Clinton.

      Why do the Dems think he is the right guy? I personally think Chap! would have defeated Cuccinelli 55-45. But I see this as a pretty close race with a tiny advantage to Cuccinelli.

      1. The Dems in Virginia with a few notable exceptions like Chap Peterson don’t do a very good job of growing the party with quality contenders.

        The GOP has significant machinery at the local level of many counties. We have a BOS of 7 and 5 of them are not only GOP but young and active in the GOP.

        they follow in the footsteps of another GOP who ended up besting a Dem Senator of 28 years which turned the Senate.

        and the two counties in our area are top-heavy with NoVa/Govt commuters but still GOP red at elections.

        Over the longer run – the GOP is going to continue to prevail in much of RoVa.

  2. McAuliffe is sleazy. Why did he lie about funding for transportation? It’s hard to believe that people like Sharon Bulova, John Foust, Mark Keam and Chap Petersen are in the same Party as McAuliffe. He reminds me of a greasy version of Bill Clinton at his worst.

  3. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Re above two comments: count me in.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    Nothing was sleazier than Cuccinelli’s assassination of both Bill Bolling and the democratic process in Virginia. Unable to win in an honest primary, Cuccinelli secretly subverted the process so that a collection of odd balls, gew gaws and jimcracks can coronate him as the Republican candidate for governor.

    The reason people won’t get a chance to vote for Bill Bolling isn’t because he lacks cash. It’s because a world class slimeball from his own party stabbed both Bolling and the democratic process in the back.

    Cuccinelli can’t even get along with people from his own party. How in the hell is he going govern in a world where there are two parties?

    1. all true but one big problem. People to the right of Bill Bolling will gladly vote for Cuccinelli … the only question is how many is that and how many GOP end up to the left of Bill Bolling and would they hold their noses and vote for McAuliffe or sit at home?

      If the Dems themselves don’t care for McAuliffe and stay home and the folks who liked Bolling stay home.. the Cooch is going to win by default no matter how horrible that would be for Virginia.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        McAuliffe is already winning over as many liberal Dems as Cuccinelli is alienating moderate Republicans. The early indifference that the liberal left showed McAuliffe is turning into strong support.

        Remember the three former Republican legislators who came out and endorsed McAuliffe. They could have just said nothing. They were so appalled by Cuccinelli that they endorsed the Democrat – in March no less. Don’t under-estimate the anti-Cuccinelli sentiment and its ability to get out the vote. McDonnell overcame criticisms that he was too conservative. However, those criticisms were largely based on a 20 year old thesis. Cuccinelli is far more right wing than McDonnell ever was and he demonstrates that right wingedness every day.

        I also wonder if Cuccinelli is as smart as everybody says. By remaining as Attorney General he puts himself in a difficult position. If he goes after McDonnell’s transportation bill as unconstitutional he alienates the McDonnell base, most of Nova and many in Tidewater. He also becomes a bureaucrat standing between a law passed by the elected legislature and its enactment. Finally, he might not win. He lost plenty of his previous legal battles. It seems to me that breaching protocol and staying as Attorney General was just plain stubborn and stupid.

        But, given all that, the election will probably come down to whether McAuliffe can get out the people in the middle disaffected by Cuccinelli’s radicalism. As one of the middle who happily voted for McDonnell in 2009 I’ll come out and vote against Cuccinelli in 2013. I suspect many more will do the same.

        1. re: “smart” .. not convinced yet as he seems to think overtly wearing ideologue credentials serves his ambitions.

          I still Va is at serious risk because his ideology matches up with much of RoVa… and they don’t care if he has other problems as long as they think he’ll rule Richmond!!!!

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Here is Cuccinelli’s CPAC speech – 17:40 of blather.

    Cuccinelli’s love of America is so profound that he picked an English-Irish boy pop band for the music in his introduction.

    After nine full minutes of saying nothing he listed his five priorities if elected governor:

    1. Simplify the tax code and reduce tax rates for ordinary people. Note: Chap Petersen, a Democrat, introduced a bill to at least cap tax breaks at 5 years. His bill died like a dog in committee. I’d love to hear more about what the Cooch is really going to do and how he’ll get it done.

    2. Streamline regulations. Note: Cuccinelli, who has never created a job in his life, is concerned that Virginia’s regulations are hurting job creators. Naturally, he gives no examples.

    3. Reign in government. Note: He promises to balance Virginia’s budget if elected governor. He fails to inform the right wingnuts in the audience that his “promise” is required by Virginia’s Constitution. The audience breaks out in applause.

    4. Improve the quality of education; give parents more choices. Note: Again, no details. Just the usual politician’s “pap”.

    5. Respect life. Note: Cuccinelli makes his anti-abortion pledge using code words like ” … throughout a person’s life …”. The self-proclaimed “straight talker” doesn’t have the balls to just say he wants to roll back Roe v. Wade in Virginia. And … how will he roll back Roe v. Wade? By INCREASING regulations on abortion clinics (See point 2).

    He takes the obligatory pot shots at Terry McAuliffe. Cuccinelli can remember McAuliffe’s political activities but can’t remember his business successes. I guess that’s the curse of being a professional politician like Cuccinelli.

    Cuccinelli finally discredits himself by saying, “He (Terry McAuliffe) believes that government is the solution for every problem facing our nation today.”. That’s a pretty ridiculous statement from a man who has spent his entire working life either profiting from government regulations as a “business lawyer” or being a professional politician.

    Missing from his proposed goals as governor:

    1. Any mention of transportation. I guess when you are intellectually bankrupt on a topic it’s best not to mention it.
    2. Jobs. I guess when you’ve never created a job in your life it’s best to avoid guessing how that might occur.
    3. Energy. I guess when you are a typical Richmond insider with your hands deep into Dominion’s pockets it’s best to leave energy out of the conversation.
    4. The environment. I guess when you are a member of the Party of No the environment needs to be one of those “no go” areas.

    This guy is a disaster.

  6. DJRippert Avatar

    From the Issues section of Cuccinelli’s web site –

    “I was raised in Fairfax County and attended public schools.”.

    Ken Cuccinelli attended and graduated from Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC. Gonzaga is a Jesuit – inspired, very expensive PRIVATE school.

    Now, did Mr. Cuccinelli at some time attend a public school in Fairfax County? Maybe. I guess. However, his statement is intended to deceive. One thing that Cuccinelli should have learned at Gonzaga is that intentionally lying through omission is lying nonetheless.

    This guy oozes dishonesty and slime.

  7. McAwful as jobs creator? One only has to ask his position on Virginia’s Right to Work law to find out the truth of that claim. Like virtually every other modern Democrat, he doubtless endorses the notion that unions should be able to demand and collect tribute as a condition of employment, because Democrats depend upon union forced dues to fund their campaigns.

    Of course, the question is, who will ask that question?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Minnesota’s unemployment rate is 5.4% as of Dec, 2012. Virginia’s is 5.6%. Virginia is a right to work state, Minnesota is not. Hawaii also has a lower unemployment rate than Virginia.

      I don’t agree with McAuliffe on his right to work stance. However, it is an observably false conclusion that right to work states fail to create jobs.

      It should also be noted that Virginia’s relatively strong position vis-a-vis unemployment (#12) is bolstered by a lot of federal employment.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Sorry … typo. It is an observably false conclusion that non-right to work states fail to create jobs.

  8. yeah.. I don’t buy the right-to-work argument either. It’s a basic philosophical differences between the Dems and GOP more than just McAuliffe.

    UPS is unionized, as is virtually every airline, as are a lot of other industries and the anti-union folks often talk about teacher unions irregardless of whether a state has right-to-work or not so you have bad teachers blamed for poor results who cannot be removed because they are “union” but Virginia has the same or similar achievement results and no teacher unions.

    so I consider the issue to be a fundamental difference between Dems and GOP no matter who the candidates are.

    In BOTH cases of these two particular candidates, I think there is a trust factor. Do people trust McAuliffe when he says he will do something or not and do they trust Cuccinelli when he says he really wants to be Gov so he can improve Va rather than just try to impose his ideology.

    I don not think McAuliffe has an “ideology” per se or if he does it would “adapt” if it would get him more votes but I’m pretty sure that Cuccinelli does and it would likely not shift but he’d end up trying to not talk about it rather than speak freely and admit that it’s hard core – and lose votes.

  9. Richard Avatar

    Cuccinelli is so 2010. Even the Republican party has gotten past him. Does Virginia really want a radical social conservative, warmer-denier, and tea party activist as the state’s leading advocate for the Commonwealth. As DJRippert so thoroughly documents, he has no real plans, just a lot of complaints. If he’s elected, the rest of the country will just laugh and say – oh those crazy Virginians! Virginia – the land of Pat Robertson, Liberty University, transvaginal exams, and Cuccinelli.

  10. Richard – Welcome to RoVa!

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