MANASSAS, Va. — Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli stopped short of calling his Democratic opponent a criminal but used a candidate forum Friday to lay into Terry McAuliffe with blistering accusations sure to fan the flames of an already heated campaign.
From his opening salvo, Cuccinelli sought to discredit McAuliffe’s bonafides as a job creator and criticized the former Democratic National Committee chairman for his life work as a party fundraiser. He called McAuliffe an “unindicted co-conspirator” in referring to the corruption conviction of a Teamsters political director, a 1999 scandal that touched but never took down President Bill Clinton or any Democrats.
“He’s the person who invented the scheme to rent out the Lincoln Bedroom and proudly bragged about selling seats on Air Force One for political donations,” Cuccinelli told the auditorium on George Mason University’s Prince William County campus.
For his part, McAuliffe took advantage of friendly questions on a state transportation tax increase and Medicaid expansion from the chamber of commerce groups hosting the forum. McAuliffe chided Cuccinelli’s opposition to both as an idealogical position that will ultimately hurt Virginia businesses, and alluded to the Republican attorney general’s past crusades for conservative social positions.
“He’s on the wrong side of every major issue, so all he can do is personal attacks,” McAuliffe said after the debate.
Neither candidate was forced to answer questions from the panel about the ongoing scandals embroiling their respective business interests. Cuccinelli has been criticized for not returning gifts from a well-connected businessman who is at the center of a FBI probe involving Gov. Bob McDonnell.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, has faced a string of unflattering headlines as his former business, GreenTech Automotive, faces a federal investigation for allegedly misleading investors and lobbying the Department of Homeland Security to provide a visa to an investor with national security issues.
Instead, four Northern Virginia business leaders proded Cuccinelli and McAuliffe on healthcare, economic development and transportation.
Both were chided by moderator Derek McGinty, a reporter for WUSA 9, for failing to take a hard stand on two issues critical to Northern Virginia.
McAuliffe would not take a position on the proposed bi-county parkway near Washington Dulles International Airport, saying only that he would seek a solution that appeased all parties involved.
“You’re the one who wants to be governor, don’t you owe them a real position on this?” McGinty asked.
McAuliffe disagreed. “You know, no offense, that’s cute to say, but I do not make decisions, nor will I make decisions, until I have all the facts in front of me.” He then poked fun of McGinty for being a D.C. resident.
Similarly, Cuccinelli was pressed by McGinty to provide specifics for which tax loopholes he would close to pay for a $1.4 billion proposed income tax cut for individuals and corporations. Cuccinelli said most of the tax breaks are on the table and that special interests would have to make the case to keep them.
While Cuccinelli is on the opposite side of business groups regarding McDonnell’s transportation reforms and has frequently criticized it as an “enormous tax hike,” he said he would do his best to ensure the influx of money would be well spent. He also said he is focused on creating a climate where businesses would be “foolish to leave.”
McAuliffe cast doubts that’s where Cuccinelli’s true intentions lie.
“It’s important to remember he’s made these promises in the past and once he gets elected he focuses on a divisive ideological agenda,” McAuliffe said.
On Medicaid expansion, he said Cuccinelli said he would be open to it but only if the state had more control of how those federal dollars would be spent. He also said he didn’t trust that the federal government would pay for 90 percent of the state expansion after the first three years.
“Do we really want to hitch our wagon to that pickup truck?” Cuccinelli asked, calling Obamacare a “rolling jalopy.”
Most polls show a tight race between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe, who so far have debated only once but have appeared at multiple candidate forums together. The Virginia governor race is widely seen as the nation’s most compelling contest in the 2013 election cycle.