Virginia governor candidates still trying to explain away missteps

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Photo - Virginia gubernatorial candidates: Democrat Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
Virginia gubernatorial candidates: Democrat Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Terry McAuliffe,Ken Cuccinelli,Larry Sabato

The Virginia governor's race has so far been defined by the missteps of Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cucccinelli, who have struggled to explain away separate controversies that have marred both campaigns.

McAuliffe is widely seen as having fumbled the explanation of why he stepped down as chairman of Mississippi electric car manufacturer GreenTech Automotive without telling anyone. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, continues to brush off as simple forgetfulness his failure to report gifts from Star Scientific, a company at the center of state and federal investigations.

Both campaigns want desperately to move past the quasi-scandals to focus on convincing voters that they're the most qualified candidate to create jobs for Virginians. But so far neither has satisfied their detractors, political observers noted.

"Why does an attorney general who has given the impression that he's detail-oriented have so many oversights with respect to his campaign disclosure forms?" said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. "For McAuliffe, if you want to put yourself forward as a successful economic entrepreneur, by all means have a track record that actually confirms that. The responses have confirmed that these guys are both very flawed candidates."

The two ventures McAuliffe has presented as evidence of business acumen have so far created few jobs. GreenTech has not begun production despite McAuliffe's promise of thousands of cars and jobs by the end of 2012. Reports surfaced last week that Franklin Pellets, a renewable energy company in Virginia in which McAuliffe has invested, has also stalled so far.

"Time after time, Terry McAuliffe has not lived up to his promises and taken credit when no credit was due," said Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix.

Meanwhile, when asked last week why he failed to report thousands of dollars in vacations and other gifts from embattled Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, Cuccinelli told NBC4 he "didn't really have any practice when I came in. This was kind of done on the fly as we go."

Democrats quickly noted that Cuccinelli filed identical forms as a state lawmaker before becoming attorney general.

"That excuse coming from Virginia's top law enforcement official would ring pretty hollow on its own, but it's particularly offensive to Virginians' intelligence given that Cuccinelli had been filing the exact same form for years during his time as a state senator," Democratic Party spokesman Brian Coy said.

The silver lining for both candidates is that few voters are paying attention this early in the campaign. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, only 10 percent of respondents said they were watching the race very closely. Still, both candidates need to change things quickly, said political analyst Larry Sabato.

"Both of these candidates are too self-assured," Sabato said. "They are convinced they can handle whatever comes up because they've handled so many crises in their careers, but it doesn't seem so."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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