Democratic and Republican gubernatorial hopefuls in Virginia are finding themselves in the midst of controversy. The Commonwealth's Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has written a book and excerpts published in advance of its official release are prompting a strong response from Democrats. Meanwhile, Republicans are pointing to possible ties between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and a physician in Florida accused of providing free travel and prostitutes to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
Josh Kraushaar, political editor at National Journal, talks with WAMU's Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about the state of play in the commonwealth. Here are some highlights:
On what observers are saying about the excerpts of Cuccinelli's book that have been release, some of which tout his extremely conservative views: "This is an unusual move for a candidate starting off a big highly contested gubernatorial race," Kraushaar says. "Usually in Virginia, governors' races … you're focusing on less ideologically charged issues: jobs transportations, broadening the economy in Virginia. You're not bringing social security, Medicare, questioning the social safety net in a book coming out less than a year before he nov election. A lot of Republicans are scratching their heads at … why Ken Cuccinelli is coming out with a book that has a lot of controversial passages in it less than a year before the election."
How responses from Democrats and Republicans are differing: "Democrats are pouncing on it already. The campaign of Terry McAuliffe is calling Cuccinelli 'out of the mainstream,'" Kraushaar says. "But for Republicans, especially for those tied to Gov. Bob McDonnell, it's a lot questioning on why he's not focused on the economy, why he's not talking about the McDonnell legacy. Bob McDonnell is one of the most popular governors in the country, and there's a real message to be sold to Virginia voters that Cuccinelli could continue that leg of economic growth and popularity. But Cuccinelli does not seem to be willing to do that. He's trying to touch a lot of hot-button conservative issues in his campaign."
Where Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who is considering a third-party run, fits in: "He's still holding out the prospect of running as an independent candidate. If he does so, as a Republican lieutenant governor, that would split the Republican party, and really almost hand the race to Democrats, to Terry McAuliffe, even before the campaign gets started," Krashaar says. "There's no guarantee that he's going to run as an independent, but the fact that there is this fissure in the Republican party isn't good new for their chances of holding on to the governorship."
On McAuliffe's reported ties to Dr. Salomon Melgan, who is under federal investigation: "McAuliffe's biggest vulnerability is that he's too partisan for Virginia. As a former DNC chair, and a money raiser for the national Democratic party … he has connections with a lot of donors," Kraushaar says. "Inevitably, you're going to have some that are not the most savory characters, the donor mentioned in the Mendendez scandal, is someone who he's going to have to explain for."
What that means for his campaign: "Democrats acknowledge that Terry McAuliffe isn't necessary the strongest Democrat to run in the state. He's got a lot of baggage himself for being a very active partisan," Kraushaar says. "But they're licking their chops at some of Cuccinelli's moves and campaign decisions at the same time. Basically, you have a race here in Virginia where you have a candidate who's far more partisan than most Virginia voters, and a Republican candidate who's much more conservative than most Virginia voters. It's really going to be a race to see which one can win the skeptical voters in Virginia."