By Jason Spencer
Bare-knuckle boxing may be in Ken Cuccinelli's blood, but both he and rival Terry McAuliffe took their gloves off Wednesday night for a nasty debate at the Capital One Conference Center in McLean.
Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia and the Republican
nominee for governor, likes to talk about his grandfather, who was a
bare-knuckle boxer during the Depression, when he introduces himself to
emphasize the "dignity of work." Likewise, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a
businessman and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee,
typically mentions that he started his first business at age 14 in an
effort to save money for college.
And throughout the night, each candidate was able to maintain their
regular talking points, despite being regularly pressed by moderator
Chuck Todd, pausing only to take a breath or attack the other.
"I feel like going home and taking a shower, it was such a mud bath,"
retired Congressman Tom Davis, a Vienna Republican, told Patch. "They
both stayed on their sticking points. They didn't let the questions get
in the way of their answers."
Davis declined to say which man he supports.
According to Todd, the two candidates have collectively spent $20 million on television ads this election cycle — and a whopping 75 percent of them have been negative.
Each man was asked to disprove
the stereotype about them — McAuliffe, that he's a fast-moving
cheerleader willing to use political connections for his own gain; and
Cuccinelli, that he would use the office of governor to push an
ideological agenda on abortion, gay rights and climate change.
Each response was more aimed at reinforcing the negative stereotype
of the other than it was disproving anything about themselves.
Despite being asked repeatedly, McAuliffe was unable to put a price
tag on his myriad proposals for moving Virginia forward. Cuccinelli,
asked to identify the "loopholes" in Medicaid that he referred to
several time, eventually conceded only that there were "scores of them."
And neither man was willing to say whether they found the name of the
Washington Redskins offensive in the final minutes of the night.
Medicaid, and the expansion of it, took up a good portion of the debate.
McAuliffe supports expanding Medicaid, which he says will return
Virginia tax dollars to this state, create thousands of jobs and help
pay for other reforms, like increasing teacher pay and investing in
early childhood education. Cuccinelli opposes the expansion, saying
one-sixth of the programs in the current Medicaid system can be
eliminated to find savings and make the system work better for the 1
million Virginians who benefit from the system now. He believes the
federal government won't have the money it's pledged to pay for Medicaid
expansion in the states, which will destroy Virginia's budget.
When asked about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz' recent 21-hour talk-a-thon
that was aimed at derailing funding for federal health care reform,
Cuccinelli pointed out that McAuliffe has said he will not sign a budget
that doesn't include Medicaid expansion.
"You've heard him talk over and over and over about how this is his
funding mechanism for everything he wants to do," Cuccinelli said. "But
the Medicaid expansion is not the end-all, be-all for Virginia's
McAuliffe retorted that he would not allow state government to shut
down, and that he placed "a pox" on everyone in Washington who is not
working to resolve the gridlock there (and the lingering threat of more
sequestration cuts), including the president.
When asked about gun control in Virginia in light of the recent mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, McAuliffe said he supported universal background checks.
"How many people have to be killed before we wake up to have sensible gun ownership?" he said.
When asked why all of the recommendations from the review of the
Virginia Tech massacre hadn't been implemented, Cuccinelli said Virginia
had become the No. 1 state in screening out people with mental illness
from buying guns. Mental health, he said, is the main source of the
Both men laced their comments with key words they want people to
associate with them: McAuliffe, that he's mainstream. Cuccinelli, that
he's an experienced elected official who won't need on-the-job training.
A Republican operative afterward told reporters that he thought every question was targeted at Cuccinelli — gifts he received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams got a mention, but the federal investigations into Greentech Automotive,
a company Terry McAuliffe until recently served as chairman of, did not
— until Cuccinelli brought it up himself in his closing remarks. "It
was like five on one," the GOP operative said.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova, a McAuliffe supporter, said the night had "no surprises."
"Both candidates did a very good job of clearly defining their
positions, which are quite far apart," she said. "It was a spirited
debate, lots of fire."
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