TOPICS > Politics

Governor’s race reveals Virginia’s ongoing red state-blue state debate

November 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Virginia residents head to the polls Tuesday to elect either Republican Ken Cuccinelli or Democrat Terry McAuliffe as their new governor. In the lead up to Election Day, national party figures are endorsing candidates and their controversial issues such as health care and contraception. Kwame Holman reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We look now to next Tuesday’s elections, and one of only two gubernatorial races in the nation this year, this one in Virginia.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is challenging Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in a state that’s growing fast and frequently changing party hands.

Kwame Holman has our report on the contest and its national implications.

KWAME HOLMAN: Both parties are looking at Virginia for clues about future elections. And that intrigue has brought a steady stream of national figures into the state for the homestretch.

Longtime party fund-raiser and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe was joined on the trail this week by former President Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON, former President of the United States: I want you to elect him governor because what happens in Virginia is really important to this country.

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(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: Before that, McAuliffe received the endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, former U.S. Secretary of State: Supporting and voting for Terry McAuliffe will make you proud of yourselves, of this commonwealth, and, yes, of our country.

KWAME HOLMAN: Virginia’s attorney general, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, has appeared in recent days with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a favorite of the Tea Party.

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: We need champions and you need a governor who will stand up against an overbearing and overzealous government. Ken Cuccinelli is the one to do it.  

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal also has rallied voters for the Republican.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: This isn’t a choice between two personalities. This isn’t a choice between two guys that have slightly different views. This is a clear contrast.

KWAME HOLMAN: The contest also has captured the attention of Virginians looking for signs of where their state is headed politically.

MARJORIE SIGNER, supporter of TERRY MCAULIFFE: I think it’s dangerous to say Virginia is a blue state or even a purple state. Remember what this state was like 15 years ago. This was the — the bedrock Christian right state. It doesn’t go away.

RICHARD RANKIN, supporter of KENNETH CUCCINELLI: We’re kind of in the crosshairs of a lot of change in America. You know, there’s part of Northern Virginia that’s kind of moving in one direction. There’s the rest of Virginia that’s kind of moving in another direction. So it’s kind of like we’re at a crossroads and which way we’re going to go.

KWAME HOLMAN: With so much at stake, a fierce battle has been waged across the airwaves.

NARRATOR: As governor, where would Ken Cuccinelli take his extreme agenda? Our schools.

KWAME HOLMAN: In face-to-face debates.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI, Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate: Saying the words education and research, that’s all great, but those are goals, those are platitudes. They’re not plans.

KWAME HOLMAN: And on the campaign trail, with the candidates pulling no punches.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI: If you like D.C. politics, you will love Terry McAuliffe. If you like Detroit finances, you will love Terry McAuliffe.

(LAUGHTER)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate: Ken’s new campaign slogan is, fighting for Virginia. But after his event with Ted Cruz, it’s pretty clear that it’s just that, a slogan.

KWAME HOLMAN: Stephen Farnsworth is a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington.

STEPHEN FARNSWORTH, University of Mary Washington: From day one, it was all about how the other side was unfit to govern. And, in some ways, what’s happening, I think, is that voters, at least some of them, are starting to agree with both campaigns.

KWAME HOLMAN: Among them, Andrea Khoury. She traditionally votes Republican, but says the negativity coming from both sides has left her undecided this year.

ANDREA KHOURY, resident of Virginia: I think they have been doing more attacking than actually what their platform is. And I think, as a voter, I need to know what I’m voting for, not what I’m voting against.

KWAME HOLMAN: The heated rhetoric has turned off other Virginians.

QUINN CHATMAN, resident of Virginia: I have only heard negativity. I have only heard mudslinging from both sides.

GARY SHORT, resident of Virginia: If I vote, I would write myself in on the ballot because I’m so disgusted with the way everything’s been run so far.

KWAME HOLMAN: Heading into the final weekend, polls shows McAuliffe running ahead, but with margins ranging from two to 11 points. A McAuliffe victory would bring to an end a 40-year trend in Virginia politics. Since 1973, the governor elected here has been from the party opposite the one that took the White House the year before.

With President Obama’s reelection last year, Cuccinelli is hoping that tradition continues. The GOP firebrand was elected Virginia’s attorney general by 15 points in 2009. In that role, he has challenged the Obama administration over health care and environmental regulation. And that’s a theme he’s continued to play up throughout the campaign.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI: I’m kind of glad the president is coming to campaign for my opponent.

(LAUGHTER)

KENNETH CUCCINELLI: Let — let — let there be no lack of clarity as we get to next Tuesday. Send them a message.

KWAME HOLMAN: It’s a tactic Cuccinelli also has used on television, where he’s tried to tie his opponent to the health care law.

NARRATOR: TERRY MCAULIFFE: Expand Obamacare, increase taxes. Ken Cuccinelli: Create jobs, cut taxes. To stop Obamacare and higher taxes, there’s only one choice.

KWAME HOLMAN: Unlike his rival, McAuliffe supports expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He says accepting the federal aid would help more Virginia residents obtain coverage and benefit the state’s economy.

TERRY MCAULIFFE: When we know that 400,000 Virginians could gain health care access by accepting the Medicaid expansion, we must act.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TERRY MCAULIFFE: That is Virginia money coming back to Virginia, and it will create 30,000 new jobs.

KWAME HOLMAN: Cuccinelli refuted that claim at last week’s final candidate debate.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI: He pretends to get $500 million out of the Medicaid expansion, which he’s called a jobs program. Folks, it’s welfare. It’s not a jobs program.

KWAME HOLMAN: The McAuliffe campaign, meanwhile, has charged Republican Cuccinelli is outside the mainstream of Virginia voters, especially when it comes to women’s health issues such as abortion rights and access to contraception.

TERRY MCAULIFFE: Let me be crystal clear. I trust women to make their own decisions about their own personal health choices.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TERRY MCAULIFFE: As governor, I will veto any legislation that would restrict birth control.  

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: It’s a message the Democrat has underscored on television, where he has outspent Cuccinelli by more than $3 million.

WOMAN: And Cuccinelli tried to ban common forms of birth control.

MAN: Even the pill.

WOMAN: Even the pill.

MAN: Ken Cuccinelli is just way too extreme.

WOMAN: Way too extreme.

MAN: Way too extreme.

WOMAN: Way too extreme for Virginia.

KWAME HOLMAN: The polls reflect a wide gender gap in the race, with McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by double digits among women, while men are more evenly split. For his part, Cuccinelli says the problems with the health care law should be a chief concern for women.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI: On Obamacare, it is women that make three-quarters of the health care decisions in this country, and they don’t like it when they’re threatened with the federal government taking their doctor away, taking their health insurance away, taking their choices away, and dictating how those decisions are going to get made.

KWAME HOLMAN: The divisions between the candidates are shared by their supporters.

HAL THOMAS, supporter of Terry McAuliffe: I think Mr. Cuccinelli himself has painted himself as too conservative for Virginia. And, you know, these are his stated positions, if you will. And I believe the majority of the commonwealth are just not in line with those views.

JUDY PERICH, supporter of Kenneth Cuccinelli:They’re making these crises out of social issues. And that’s not going to help the commonwealth. We need to get serious about real problems, not made-up issues and problems.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mary Washington’s Stephen Farnsworth notes, Cuccinelli’s bid has been complicated by the presence in the race of libertarian Robert Sarvis. One recent poll showed Sarvis with 9 percent of the potential vote. Farnsworth says that’s driven Cuccinelli to shore up his conservative base, hampering his outreach to the rest of Virginia’s fast-changing electorate.

STEPHEN FARNSWORTH: You’re looking at a purple state. And if you are too conservative a Republican, you can pay a price for that. And there’s a belief among some Republicans, even people we would have a couple of years have called conservative Republicans, that Cuccinelli is too conservative.

KWAME HOLMAN: With both sides eager to win this battleground state, more big names are headed to the Old Dominion in the campaign’s closing days. President Obama and Vice President Biden are scheduled to campaign for McAuliffe, while Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Texas Congressman Ron Paul will stump for Cuccinelli.

Volunteers with both campaigns are doing their part to help get out the vote next Tuesday, when Virginia voters will decide which direction to take their state for the next four years.