McAuliffe on the defense: Cuccinelli zings Democratic hopeful’s stereotype as an ‘operator’

Alex Pappas | Political Reporter

McLEAN, Va. — The first question during the debate between Virginia’s two gubernatorial hopefuls on Wednesday focused on the outlandish personality of Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee chairman.

“Mr. McAuliffe, the stereotype of you is that you’re an operator, cheerleader more than a legislator or governor,” NBC’s Chuck Todd, the debate’s moderator, said. “That you don’t have the relevant experience to be governor. And that you’re a man in a hurry, who’s willing to use political connections, sometimes in very high places, to take shortcuts. Your response?”

The well-connected Democrat — and close Clinton family friend — used the question to stress his business background.

“I think it’s important to have someone in the governor’s office who has those business experience, understands the ups and downs of businesses, understands that risk is inherent in our economy, and is willing to put everything in to make sure we grow and diversify our economy,” McAuliffe said.

But for the rest of the night, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — the Republican in the race — repeatedly used zingers to reinforce McAuliffe’s operator reputation.

“If Terry’s elected governor, we’re gonna have to change the state motto from ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’ to ‘Quid Pro Quo,’”  Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli also reinforced the back-scratching charge frequently used against McAuliffe. “It’s pretty rich to have the guy who rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, sold seats on Air Force One, was an unindicted co-conspirator in a Teamsters election law money laundering case be talking about ethics now,” he said.

“Folks, governor is not a good entry-level job,” Cuccinelli added. “But that’s what it would be for Terry.”

Cuccinelli also found himself on defense when Todd asked the Republican to defend his reputation as a solid social conservative.

“Talk about the stereotype that’s been painted of you,” Todd said. “That you’ll use your governorship to push a social agenda on abortion, gay rights, even on climate change. That you would be a governor simply for conservatives. And that you will not consider those who are liberals or moderates in you governing. Your response to this stereotype?”

McAuliffe went on to attack Cuccinelli over that stereotype. “My opponent has spent most of his career on a social ideological agenda,” he argued.

But McAuliffe’s best line against Cuccinelli was when he referenced the embarrassing revelation that the Republican accepted a $1,500 catered Thanksgiving dinner by Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

Calling for a $100 gift ban for state elected officials, McAuliffe turned to Cuccinelli. “I mean, clearly, you can buy a lot of turkey for a hundred bucks,” he said.

The two candidates for governor faced off at the Capitol One building in McLean outside of Washington. The televised debate was hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

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