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Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe took turns exchanging one-liners on the issues that have become the hallmarks of their campaigns.
Associated Press | File
Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe (left) and Republican Ken Cuccinelli
Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe (left) listens as Republican challenger Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (right)gestures during a debate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.
Virginia Tech president Charles Steger welcomes the crowd to a debate between gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe (right) gestures during a debate with Republican challenger Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (left) at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (left) gestures during a debate with Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe (right) at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (left) shakes the hand of Republican candidate Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (right) after a debate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe speaks during a debate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speaks during a debate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
BLACKSBURG — Voters heard more of the usual as gubernatorial candidates shared a stage for the final time on Thursday, one last showdown in what has been a bitter, often personal, battle for the governor’s mansion.
Both Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe took turns exchanging the same one-liners Virginians have been listening to during TV commercials for months. McAuliffe reiterated his stance on the women’s rights issues that have powered his recent surge, while Cuccinelli focused on his opponent’s limited political experience.
“Unlike my record of service to Virginians, Terry McAuliffe literally did nothing for Virginia or Virginians before deciding to run for governor, nothing,” Cuccinelli said. “Some people run to do something, and some people run to be something.”
The third debate was hosted by WDBJ (Channel 7) and held on Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg. The televised event was to be the last major showdown with just 12 days left before voters head to the polls on Nov. 5.
The race has received national attention, as the outcome could offer insight into the Virginia’s political landscape and clues as to where the battleground state will lean going into the 2016 presidential race.
McAuliffe, a businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman, has been pulling away since late August after things got off to a back and forth start. By the time he took the stage in Squires Hall on Thursday, he enjoyed at least a 7 percent lead in every major poll, according to realclearpolitics.com.
But, in keeping with the tone of the campaign, McAuliffe still came out punching in front of the cameras. He painted his opponent as a close-minded politician, quoting disparaging comments Cuccinelli reportedly made against gay Virginians.
“Who talks like that?” McAuliffe said. “You cannot grow and diversify our economy with this mean-spirited language.”
McAuliffe’s theme throughout the night was to portray himself as the candidate who unites, while Cuccinelli, a tea party conservative, one who puts up walls.
Much of the Democrat’s rise over the past few months has been powered by increased support from female voters. According to Quinnipiac’s most recent poll, he now holds a 14 point lead in that demographic.
This disparity was clear outside the debate hall, where protesters from Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC held “Keep Ken Out!” signs and dressed up as birth control containers as they talked about Cuccinelli’s stance on abortion.
“You can’t propose extreme positions and ignore women’s reproductive health and serve in the highest levels of government in the commonwealth,” the group’s leader Cianti Stewart-Reid said.
McAuliffe also used the venue to underscore his stance on background checks and gun control.
He talked about a visit he recently paid the April 16 memorial on Virginia Tech’s campus and how he believes it’s his job to do whatever he can to prevent future mass shootings.
“My opponent likes to say that I got an F from the NRA,” McAuliffe said. “I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA. As governor, I want to make sure our communities are safe.”
But McAuliffe wasn’t the only one catering to the audience.
Both candidates said Southwest Virginia would be a focus of their time in office, as it needs to see improvements with job creation.
Cuccinelli used this as an opportunity to attack his opponent’s position on energy and what it could mean for the region.
“The war on coal hurts Southwest Virginia. It is a war on our poor in Virginia. And my opponent is ‘all in’ as he likes to say on it,” Cuccinelli said. “I have fought that kind of onslaught from Washington that kills jobs and kills opportunities in the parts of Virginia we need it the most.”
But Cuccinelli focused most of his energy during the debate on painting his opponent as an inexperienced politician without a plan.
“I’m the only candidate for governor who won’t need on-the-job training if you elect me your next governor on Nov. 5,” Cuccinelli said.
He repeatedly challenged McAuliffe to lay out a specific financial plan for the state, at one point even forfeiting his own speaking time to demand an answer.
“His plan is like believing that he came here on a unicorn tonight,” McAuliffe once responded. “The idea that you could do $1.4 billion in tax cuts a year, per year, without saying how you’re going to pay for it. I would love to stand here today and promise you billions of dollars in tax cuts. But it’s fiscally irresponsible.”
Conspicuously absent from the podium was the third option on the ballot, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. Instead of taking the stage, he was forced to reserve gallery tickets like everybody else.
Sarvis has been riding a growing wave of disapproval of the two mainstream candidates all season and now has a chance to be one of the highest producing third party candidates Virginia has seen in decades.
But debate rules required candidates to take at least 10 percent of the vote in polls a few weeks before the event to be eligible to participate. When Sarvis came in just below the threshold, he was stuck out in the cold.
“It’s a little frustrating just because I know I have a lot to offer,” Sarvis said as he stood outside with a handful of supporters before things got underway. “Not being able to broadcast that message in this forum is unfortunate for us, and it’s also a loss for the voters.”
As both mainstream candidates continue to deal with scandals and growing dissatisfaction across the state, the door for the third party candidate was opened particularly wide this year.
In Quinnipiac’s most recent poll, Sarvis claimed a 10 percent share of the votes. If he can repeat that performance on Election Day, it will make the Libertarian platform a recognized party under Virginia law and reserve it a spot on the ballot through 2021.
Sarvis said he doesn’t see anything wrong with being called the refugee campaign, where disgruntled Democrats and Republicans turn to him.
“Anybody who is dissatisfied with the system, has something that they will like in what I have to say,” he said. “The best way to open up our political market to more competition is to support people who are running against those parties.
“And these two candidates that they’ve nominated are just two extreme versions of two extreme parties. So there’s a huge vacuum in the middle. We’re running a mainstream campaign and I’m the moderate in the race. Voters are just sick of politics as usual.”
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