In the year’s most closely watched campaign, Virginia gubernatorial hopefuls Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) faced off on Saturday in their first debate, with only about three months to go before Election Day. Cuccinelli had been prepped by the Republican Party’s highest-profile debate coach, Brett O’Donnell, who’s also the former director at Liberty University, founded by radical televangelist Jerry Falwell.
I’m not sure it helped.
McAuliffe repeatedly attacked Cuccinelli throughout the Virginia Bar Association debate in Hot Springs, VA for his record of demonizing science, women’s health, and LGBT people. Twice, McAuliffe noted that Cuccinelli had called LGBT Virginians “soulless” and “self-destructive” and that his attempts to rescind non-discrimination protections have hurt Virginia’s business climate.
Cuccinelli consistently ignored the attacks until moderator Judy Woodruff asked him directly about his previous comments. Cuccinelli responded briefly, saying, “My personal beliefs about the personal challenges of homosexuality haven’t changed.”
Cuccinelli regularly tries to position himself as a mainstream candidate, urging voters to overlook his record as a fierce culture warrior, but the fact remains that social conservatism continues to dominate the state Attorney General’s worldview. He simply can’t turn it off, even when he wants to.
In this case, Cuccinelli must have known the question was coming and could have worded his answer any number of different ways, but he nevertheless implicitly endorsed his previous condemnations of gay people, and added a gratuitous reference to “the personal challenges of homosexuality.” Cuccinelli apparently sees sexual orientation as a habit some folks struggle to kick.
Asked about new restrictions on reproductive rights, the Republican added he doesn’t “expect” to act on the issue during his term, which wasn’t exactly a straight answer.
As for the Jonnie Williams/Star Scientific scandal that’s rocked Virginia politics, not surprisingly, it was a topic of great interest in the debate.
The Washington Post report noted:
Asked specifically why he had taken gifts from Williams, Cuccinelli did not give a direct answer but said Williams had asked him for no favors and had gotten none.
The Republican and his team of advisors have had quite a bit of time to come up with an explanation for Cuccinelli’s ties to Williams, and the fact that the candidate “did not give a direct answer” suggests the campaign may simply be unable to craft a compelling explanation.
As for whether Cuccinelli believes scandal-plagued Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), his close ally, should resign, the candidate would only say, “It is appropriate to ask him to think about it.”