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Ken Cuccinelli, Terry McAuliffe in attack mode in Virginia governor's race

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

The Virginia governor's race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is already a flamethrowing match as the candidates aggressively attempt to define their opponent to voters.

With the General Assembly session in the rearview mirror, Cuccinelli is more free to engage McAuliffe. He has used his time to paint the former Democratic National Committee chairman as a party rainmaker with weak ties to the state. McAuliffe, meanwhile, is just as quick to go on the attack against Cuccinelli for his controversial battles against abortion access and for dividing his own party by ripping Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation package.

It's an early sign of where this race is headed and how each candidate hopes the race is framed for voters. Neither candidate is well-known, polls show. So both men are racing to cast their opponent in a negative light, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at University of Mary Washington.

"Both of these major-party candidates have liabilities, and each campaign will try to exploit those vulnerabilities as early and as often as they can," Farnsworth said. "Both sides will also try to make it seem like they're more than the caricature that the other side will use to paint them."

Cuccinelli spent the better part of the last week mapping McAuliffe's fundraising events with former President Clinton in New York and Florida -- two states where McAuliffe once considered running for governor, the Republican's campaign notes. Cuccinelli's camp even ripped a standard "stay safe" tweet that McAuliffe sent before Virginia's snowstorm this week while the Democrat was fundraising in the Sunshine State.

"Terry McAuliffe is a professional party hack who will do whatever ... to bring in fistfuls of cash for his liberal candidates and clients," Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix said. "For him to now be making wild claims about the attorney general shouldn't be surprising, given that his entire career has been about how he can game the system to promote himself."

But McAuliffe's campaign shot back that Cuccinelli has spent time outside Virginia, too, pushing his new book.

"Terry McAuliffe has lived in Virginia with his family for 21 years and has spent the last few years traveling around listening to Virginians' ideas about how to make the commonwealth the best for business," said McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin. "Meanwhile, Ken Cuccinelli has managed to alienate even the Republican governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House with his extreme views all while promoting his radical book and national agenda in presidential primary states."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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