April 19, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Rothenberg: Who Is Least Likely to Lose the Virginia Gubernatorial Race?

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
McAuliffe, above, is expected to face Cuccinelli in Virginiaís gubernatorial race this year.

While most political attention these days is focused on the nationís capital and President Barack Obamaís second term, across the river in Virginia, politicians from both parties are preparing for what seems to be the oddest gubernatorial race the state has seen in years.

Each party is poised to nominate a deeply flawed candidate for the stateís top post, with the winner replacing the popular current governor, Republican Bob McDonnell.

GOP Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is widely regarded as the sort of politician who never met a Democrat he didnít want to fight ó an ideologue for whom burning bridges is the preferred option.

Allies of the attorney general prefer to emphasize the positive aspects of his agenda and style, arguing that he is principled, honest and straightforward. ďThere is never any doubt where he stands on an issue,Ē one ally said.

ďHe has a spine of steel rooted in principle, but he is engaging, friendly and has a good sense of humor,Ē said another admirer of the attorney general, adding, ďAnd he is wicked smart.Ē

Supporters argue that the picture painted of the attorney general by the media is as unfair as it is unflattering. They point to his years trying to educate people about and mobilize action against sexual assault, going all the way back to his days as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, and they promise that by the time November rolls around, voters will have a better idea of who Cuccinelli really is.

But while criticism of Cuccinelli coming from liberals and Democrats is predictable and therefore less convincing, it is criticism of him from conservatives and Republicans that raises the most questions about the attorney generalís appeal and viability in a general election.

ďCuccinelliís biggest problem isnít his ideology,Ē said one Republican who generally agrees with him on most issues. ďItís his attitudes toward voters and his fellow Republicans that itís Ďmy way or the highway.í When heís attacked, heíll almost always double down. He sees backing off as compromising on principle.Ē

Republicans note that Cuccinelli and McDonnell donít disagree on many issues but have much different campaign styles.

The governor ran and has governed as a smiling, likable, consensus-building conservative. During his 2009 campaign, he stayed focused on economic issues, steering away from social issues even when critics tried to make the election about his masterís thesis for Regent University two decades earlier.

While allies of Cuccinelli say the engineer-turned-attorney can be just as disciplined as McDonnell, other Republicans are skeptical. They believe that too often he sounds confrontational and inflexible, and they doubt that he will be able to ignore criticism.

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