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Analysts say either candidate could gain traction by appealing to moderates.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
For those of you tired of sizing up the leading candidates for governor based upon the 30-second attack ads each has aired against the other for the past six months, tonight should be a treat.
For only the second time, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli will appear face-to-face in a debate this evening. The live debate, sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, will air locally on NBC affiliates and public television at 7 p.m.
Tonight’s close encounter with the candidates could be the most critical of a long and bloody political season that culminates just six weeks from now on Election Day, Nov. 5.
Many voters only focus on political contests following Labor Day, and recent polls suggest a race that is far from over. McAuliffe had a 3 percentage point lead, within the margin of error, over Cuccinelli in a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.
But a Washington Post poll released Monday showed McAuliffe leading 47-39, largely due to an increase in support from female voters.
Lurking somewhere offstage tonight will be Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate who drew 10 percent support in the Washington Post poll. Sarvis was not invited to participate in tonight’s encounter.
Analysts say debates are one of the last chances for campaigns to turn around their narratives.
“The few remaining undecided voters are likely to be swayed by issues and competence, not by partisanship,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a politics professor at the University of Mary Washington. “The partisan voters made their minds up long ago.”
But unless a candidate makes a gaffe that ends up in a rival’s television ad, the effects can fade rather quickly, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“Remember the first 2012 presidential debate that Romney won hands down? The upside for him was gone in about a week,” he said.
In the days leading to tonight’s showdown, both campaigns have sought traction on issues that appeal to their base and disparage their opponent.
McAuliffe has touted endorsements from 30 prominent Republicans as evidence of his bipartisan appeal.
Cuccinelli can lay claim to endorsements from the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s political arm, TechPAC, and by the Republican-leaning National Federation of Independent Business, which backed him Tuesday.
Both candidates are expected to take shots on ethical fronts.
McAuliffe will hit Cuccinelli on the conflicts he faces running for governor while remaining in office. He also is likely to note Cuccinelli’s connection to Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, the central figure in the gift investigations of Gov. Bob McDonnell. Williams also provided gifts to the attorney general while the Star CEO had business before the state.
Cuccinelli will likely hit McAuliffe on his job claims and lobbying efforts on behalf of GreenTech Automotive — the struggling electric car company that the Democrat located in Mississippi and reportedly left last December. GreenTech is now under federal investigation related to its use of visas to attract foreign investors.
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