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Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe talked about the economy and health care, and traded barbs.
Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe (left) and Republican Ken Cuccinelli debate Sept. 25 in McLean.
"I think Virginia women have had just about enough of Ken Cuccinelli's experience," said Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a reference to Cuccinelli's stance on abortion.
"Governor is not a good entry-level job. But that’s what it would be for Terry," Ken Cuccinelli said.
Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli shake hands at the end of Wednesday's debate.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
McLEAN — The two leading candidates for Virginia governor clashed on taxes, Medicaid, education, guns and gay marriage Wednesday night in a fast-paced and contentious debate televised statewide.
With just six weeks until Election Day, Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe also went after each other on ethics and experience, with each arguing that the other is not fit to serve all Virginians if elected Nov. 5.
“If Terry is elected governor, we’re going to have to change the state motto from sic semper tyrannis to quid pro quo,” Cuccinelli quipped in a jab at McAuliffe’s business credentials and political connections.
McAuliffe, who hammered Cuccinelli over his positions on abortion and gay rights, said “his experience has been in dividing people.”
“I think Virginia women have had just about enough of Ken Cuccinelli’s experience ,” he said.
The hourlong debate, sponsored by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce and held at the Capital One Conference Center in McLean, played out against a backdrop of recent polls that show McAuliffe, a businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman, with a slight lead over Cuccinelli, a tea party conservative who is Virginia’s attorney general and a former state senator.
McAuliffe led Cuccinelli by 8 percentage points, 47 percent to 39 percent, in a recent Washington Post survey and by a slimmer margin of 43 percent to 38 percent in an NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll.
The close rhetorical encounter punctuated what has been a brutal and bitter battle that both sides have fought over airwaves, contributing to basement-level favorability ratings for both rivals. Moderator Chuck Todd of NBC News said the ad battle has hit $20 million combined, and that 75 percent of the ads have been negative.
Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis, who was not included in the debate, pulled 10 percent in the Post poll and 8 percent in the NBC poll.
Sarvis got his message across during the debate by airing his first TV ad. It begins with pictures of McAuliffe and Cuccinelli . A woman’s voice says: “Can’t vote for these guys?” Footage plays of Sarvis, who says: “Well, I can’t either, and that’s why I’m running for governor of Virginia.”
Still, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe on Wednesday tried hard to convince an audience of partisans and hundreds of thousands of viewers why they are the best choice for Virginia — if only because, in their view, the other guy would be a disaster.
Cuccinelli cast McAuliffe as inexperienced and unprepared to run Virginia, at one point saying, “governor is not a good entry-level job. But that’s what it would be for Terry.”
On the details of the federal health care law, Cuccinelli said, “unlike my opponent, I do my homework.”
McAuliffe went after Cuccinelli for emails that a staff member in the Attorney General’s Office sent that appear to aid two energy companies — one of them a major Cuccinelli donor — in their court fight against Southwest Virginia landowners seeking royalties for natural gas on their property.
“So while he was taking contributions, the folks who were owed money, thousands and thousands of Virginia landowners, were denied their money that was due them,” McAuliffe said.
The candidates also clashed on Medicaid expansion in Virginia and the looming federal budget crisis.
McAuliffe supports expanding Medicaid while Cuccinelli does not. Cuccinelli, the first state attorney general to sue the U.S. government over the federal health care program, has said expanding Medicaid would cost millions and jobs.
McAuliffe, who supports Medicaid expansion, argues it would do the opposite, creating 33,000 jobs while extending health care to 400,000 Virginians and freeing up $500 million in general fund revenue that the state could invest in education.
Cuccinelli, referring to the federal budget standoff involving the president’s health care law, said “none of us want to see the government shut down,” but added that he would like to see “Obamacare” pulled from the budget.
McAuliffe said that if he becomes governor, “no budget will be shut down in Virginia” because of differences over Medicaid expansion.
McAuliffe focused on social issues and the effect they would have on the business climate in the state, and he revisited Cuccinelli’s Star Scientific troubles.
Cuccinelli noted that “ironically,” he met Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams through Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Williams, the political patron at the center of federal and state investigations into gifts received by McDonnell, also provided $18,000 in gifts to Cuccinelli while Star was suing the state in a tax dispute.
The candidates disagreed on whether schools should start before Labor Day — McAuliffe opposes the idea, citing tourism. Cuccinelli supports earlier openings, saying that “children outrank tourism.”
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