The two Virginia gubernatorial candidates were busily working the campaign trail over the weekend; McAuliffe rolled deep with his BFFs the Clintons in NoVa and Cuccinelli buddied up with fellow conservative superstar Mike Huckabee in Lynchburg — and meanwhile, back in the capitol city, the commonwealth’s biggest newspaper was publishing a scathing non-endorsement of what the editors believe are the equally poor choices with which Virginia voters find themselves faced. Says the Richmond Times-Dispatch of this, the first occasion on which they believe they have declined to endorse a gubernatorial nominee:

The major-party candidates have earned the citizenry’s derision. The third-party alternative has run a more exemplary race yet does not qualify as a suitable option. We cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate for governor.

The paper generally leans Republican in its endorsements, including Mitt Romney in 2012, but the editors evidently feel that Attorney General Cuccinelli strong stances on social issues, combined with the ways in which he has pursued his “divisive agenda with a stridency that was unbecoming in an attorney general” and in which he obtained the commonwealth’s Republican nomination, make him a disagreeable choice:

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli rigged the process for the Republican nomination when his minions changed the system from a primary to a convention, which they considered more likely to produce their desired outcome. The switch mocked Cuccinelli’s advertised fealty to first principles. The expression of raw power would have delighted sachems of Tammany Hall. Virginia does not welcome an in-your-face governor. …

We do not support abortion for any reason at any time and have embraced bans on late-term abortions, for instance; we remain troubled by Cuccinelli’s approach to personhood and to regulations on clinics. Questions involving abortion will be resolved not by government policy but by transformation of the human heart.

As for McAuliffe, opine the editors, he may be a wheeler-dealer but he certainly is not the “conciliator” Virginia needs in these trying political times. Moreover, he only won the nomination by default because of the Democrats’ weak bench:

The Democrat stumbles when he proposes major spending hikes, which he claims can be financed by the federal dollars the state would receive by expanding Medicaid. He offers an easy answer to a tough question.

His inclinations do not conform to Virginia’s history of fiscal restraint. Regarding uranium mining, the three wannabes opt to lead from behind.

On energy generally, McAuliffe has spun like a top and now supports items he once opposed, such as the exploration for energy sources off Virginia’s shores. Cuccinelli and Sarvis did not need electoral considerations to persuade them to do the right thing.

As for the libertarian candidate Sarvis, a vote for him “would not be wasted but would serve notice to Republicans and Democrats that the electorate rejects their surly antics,” but practically, he “has no experience applicable to the governorship, period.”

Whew. By all means, tell us how you really feel.

The Washington Post and the Virginian-Pilot have endorsed McAuliffe, but with heavy reservations; it all seems to pretty aptly reflect the hot mess of poor favorability ratings Virginians apparently harbor for both candidates. From the latest NBC/Marist poll:

McAuliffe has expanded his lead with independents from 2 points in September (36-34 percent) to 8 points now (41-33 percent). In September, Cuccinelli got a 31-45 percent unfavorable score with the group. Now, a majority give say they view him unfavorably – 34-51 percent. McAuliffe doesn’t fare much better — with a 36-47 unfavorable, but that might not be the point.

“It’s not that independents are enamored with McAuliffe,” Miringoff said, “they just dislike Cuccinelli more.”

And that just might be the theme of this campaign.

“When you have a majority viewing you negatively, it’s hard to win an election,” said Barbara Carvalho, who also helped conduct the poll. “It’s not that McAuliffe has closed the deal, it’s that he’s the lesser of two evils.”