We have less than six weeks to go until Virginia’s November 5th gubernatorial election, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe will face off for the second time tonight in a debate at 7 P.M. eastern (you can watch a livestream here). With “businessman”/former DNC chair and professional boozer-schmoozer Terry McAuliffe maintaining his edge to varying degrees in the most recent rash of polls, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli camp will be going for a strong performance and decisive victory, but meanwhile, by this point, I’d think that McAuliffe is just hoping not to screw it up.
That will be a challenge, as McAuliffe has lately fallen into the unfortunate habit of showcasing his relative lack of interest in the nuts and bolts of the actual job of — oh, you know — governing, and I’d expect Cuccinelli to try to get him to finally speak up about the Obama administration’s recent round of coal-plant regulations expected to impact southern Virginians especially. McAuliffe hasn’t quite found the time to break his political reticence on that one yet, you see.
On the flip side, I’d wager that McAuliffe will be looking for any opening to bring up social issues in the attempt to bolster one of the biggest factors he’s got going for him: The gender gap. From Sean Sullivan’s preview post at WaPo:
3. Women voters. In May, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli were running about even among women. According to the latest Post poll, the Democrat has opened up a 24-point lead. That’s quite a swing. And it comes amid a concerted Democratic effort to cast Cuccinelli as extreme on abortion an other women’s issues. Here’s a chance for the Republican to speak directly to a large audience of women, and try improve his standing. McAuliffe, meanwhile, is expected to try buttress his advantage.
Politico has a pretty useful piece up with some more of the uncomfortable questions that both candidates will be looking to avoid. For McAuliffe:
3. Would you actually shut down state government to expand Medicaid?
McAuliffe has said he would not sign a state budget from the Republican Legislature unless it includes an expansion of Medicaid to cover 400,000 more Virginians.
He has subsequently tried to clarify that he doesn’t support a shutdown and denied he ever did. But the GOP says there’s no chance they’ll expand the program and suggests that McAuliffe would try to hold the state hostage to advance his ideological agenda. …
5. How are you going to pay for all your proposed new spending?
McAuliffe has spent the year promising costly new programs and initiatives, but he’s been vague about how he would balance the books. He wants to raise teacher salaries, expand pre-K and make college more affordable. On Monday in Richmond, he outlined a plan to invest in urban renewal with more money for public transit and mental health.
He claims expanding Medicaid would net the state $500 million in savings, but many doubt that claim. Even the Post editorial board, which will probably endorse McAuliffe, called him out last Friday for being unrealistic.
And for Cuccinelli:
1. Would you shut down the federal government to defund Obamacare?
Cuccinelli officials said last week they are talking with Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican leading the controversial effort, about a joint rally during the home stretch. The candidate has often ducked taking positions on federal issues, like immigration, by saying he is not in Congress.
Polls show voters oppose Cruz’s brinkmanship, but Cuccinelli risks alienating his conservative base — which he’s counting on in a low-turnout election — if he avoids getting the senator’s back.
Meanwhile, current Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, came out against threatening to shut down the federal government on WTOP Tuesday. “We can’t hold federal workers and our federal government hostage with that,” he said.
Either way, both candidates have baggage the other can highlight now that Virginia is a little more tuned in than they were for the first debate in July, and with a lot of this race hinging on negative attack ads so far, things could get ugly.