Neither candidate pulled any punches during the 90-minute debate, which turned heated on more than one occasion and is being watched nationwide -- and funded in no small part by donors across the country, too.
McAuliffe painted Cuccinelli as a candidate more focused on promoting extreme ideas on abortion and gay rights than building the Commonwealth’s economy and creating jobs. Cuccinelli, in turn, warned Virginians that McAuliffe had no experience in state office and would say anything to get elected.
The debate, which was hosted by the Virginia Bar Association at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va., covered most of the major issues in the election – plans for the economy, transportation, women’s health, gay marriage and more.
McAuliffe, a businessman and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, criticized Cuccinelli for his opposition to the Silver Line Metrorail and to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s historic transportation bill.
Both the Metro and the transportation package, projects McAuliffe has said he has always supported, will reduce gridlock in the Commonwealth, making the state a more attractive option for businesses, he said.
Cuccinelli said McAuliffe was simply taking credit for the General Assembly’s hard work.
“Terry McAuliffe had nothing to do with the success of the transportation deal,” Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe’s business dealings with his car company, GreenTech Automotive, were also prime targets for Cuccinelli.
The Attorney General bashed McAuliffe for choosing to locate a manufacturing plant in Mississippi instead of Martinsville, Va.
“You picked Mississippi, so run for governor in Mississippi,” Cuccinelli said to some laughter from the audience.
McAuliffe countered businesses have to make tough decisions, and this was one of them.
“You can’t chase every deal,” he said. “It’s not easy starting a car company.”
But with a 42-year business background, McAuliffe said he was the right choice to boost Virginia’s economy and bring it into the future.
McAuliffe then hit Cuccinelli with a name that’s been a mainstay in the news and clouding the Virginia governor’s race – Jonnie Williams, CEO of nutritional supplement company Star Scientific and a key player in the investigation into the current governor’s ethics.
Williams, whose company is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Commonwealth and who gave thousands of dollars in gifts to McDonnell and his family, also gave gifts to Cuccinelli.
“Instead of taking him to court, he was taking you to New York City,” McAuliffe said to his opponent. “He was buying you $1,500 turkey dinners. That’s a lot of turkey.”
Cuccinelli did not address the gifts McAuliffe mentioned but did say he had never given Williams any special treatment and had acted professionally.
Both candidates carefully weighed in when asked if they thought McDonnell should resign over the scandal.
“It’s appropriate to ask him to think about it,” Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe said no decisions should be made until all of the facts are on the table.
“Let’s let the investigation go,” McAuliffe said. “Let’s not prejudge.”
Cuccinelli was also careful when given questions about his well-known opposition to homosexuality, which he once called “against nature.”
He didn’t say specifically whether he would sign abortion or marriage equality legislation, but did say he wanted to “respect life” and “protect marriage.”
Cuccinelli said his administration would not focus on passing social laws, and instead would fight to better Virginia’s economy.
"I do not expect to use the political capital of the governor's office to be moving those pieces of legislation," he said.
But, when pressed by moderator Judy Woodruff, Cuccinelli said, “My personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven’t changed.”
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