Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli plans to tie Democrat Terry McAuliffe to labor groups early and often in the Virginia governor race in hopes of winning support in a state with a long history of anti-union culture.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, Cuccinelli reaffirmed his support of Virginia's right-to-work laws, making it a pillar of the five-point agenda he unleashed there. Cuccinelli said right-to-work states "have more freedom" and he accused his November opponent of working "hand-in-hand with the national union bosses" during the time McAuliffe was Democratic National Committee chairman.
Labor is an area Cuccinelli believes he can draw distinctions between himself and McAuliffe. The former DNC chairman took more than $700,000 from unions when he unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2009, including $580,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Through the end of last year, the International Association of Fire Fighters had given $100,000 to his 2013 campaign, tied for the most of all his donors.
McAuliffe, however, says he supports Virginia's right-to-work laws, which bar union membership as a condition of employment, and would not take steps to overturn them.
"He works with everyone," said spokesman Josh Schwerin of McAuliffe's union support. "He also had a lot of support from business people and executives. That's a real advantage for him. On the flip side, Ken Cuccinelli is getting $1.5 million from [anti-abortion group] Susan B. Anthony's List and that does reflect his values."
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., faced a similar test during the 2012 campaign. Kaine withstood repeated blows from Republican George Allen for accepting contributions from labor groups and for appointing a former union head to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Kaine survived the punches by reassuring voters he would not take any steps to undo state right-to-work laws if elected. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has successfully walked a similar tight rope in the past.
"Isn't there an old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?" former Kaine adviser Mo Elleithee said. "If McAuliffe is smart, he'd put Cuccinelli on the defensive here. It's just another example of Cuccinelli trying to pit Virginians against one another."
But one Republican source involved with the 2012 Virginia campaign believes McAuliffe is more vulnerable on this topic because he's much more closely tied to Washington politics than Kaine.
"I think it's a good attack," the source said. "Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine are night and day."