Simon Williamson

Oh poor Virginia

2013-09-26 08:12

Simon Williamson

I often feel for sorry voters, but in one of two marquee elections to go on in November in the USA, my heart is especially heavy. Two states will vote for their governor this year: New Jersey, in which the well-known and well-liked Chris Christie is likely to storm to another term in office, and Virginia.

And it is the Virginians for whom I feel such pity.
Virginia is an interesting state to follow. What was once a reliably conservative bastion - it voted for a Republican presidential candidate in every election after Lyndon B Johnson’s blowout of Barry Goldwater in 1964, until Barack Obama in 2008 - has swiftly become competitive ground.

On the gubernatorial level, however, it is a far more even platform, and both candidates this year stand a shot at winning: for Democrats, Terry McAuliffe, and for Republicans, Ken Cuccinelli.
The sad part is that these are hardly inspiring candidates. McAuliffe is a former ace schmoozer for the Democratic Party and Cuccinelli is an outrageous social conservative, and, as he is currently serving as Virginia’s attorney general, his detractors have proof of his extremism in some of the things he has attempted during his tenure.

And I don't use the work "extremist" lightly.
Let’s start with McAuliffe – who is the favourite. You might not believe that by the end of this paragraph, but you’ll merely need to read on to work out why. McAuliffe has never won political office, and his career is largely due to his close relationship with the Clintons.

He is an A-class fundraiser (read: schmoozer), and, according to the New York Times, "Mr. McAuliffe has transformed the art of raising money for public figures into the art of raising money for himself, leveraging a personal fortune from his political fund-raising contacts." McAuliffe is a big player in Washington DC circles, to the point where he once left his wife and newborn baby in the car on the way back from hospital in order to run inside and attend a fundraiser.

He has a litany of dodgy business dealings – once within the time since he last attempted to run for Virginia Governor in 2009 – many of which have seen him dilly-dally with politicians and other political operatives (you’ll hear the term “crony capitalism” thrown around a lot in relations to McAuliffe). As a professional political operative (as opposed to a politician) it is hard to pin down any consistent ideology. During the current campaign he has refused to get specific about environmental laws, is fuzzy on major policies (such as where he is going to get the money to pay for all the new spending he’s planning on doing from the Governor’s mansion), and has the most unbelievable creative ability to shirk a question.
And then there’s Cuccinelli. Now, in comparison to McAuliffe, Cuccinelli has a political career about which to boast, having served two terms in the Virginia Senate, and since 2010 as the state’s attorney general.

While his record as head law enforcer has high points, they are completely overshadowed by his stances on the two big social issues in the USA: gay rights and abortion.

It obviously isn’t uncommon to see a Republican candidate who is against either of these, but Cuccinelli doesn’t have the sort of mainstream conservative opinions you hear about commonly.

In terms of being anti-abortion, he supported “personhood” laws, which would treat a foetus as a person under law from the moment of fertilization; this would severely complicate the use of some forms of contraception that prevent a fertilised foetus from implantation in the uterus. 

Cuccinelli has said he wishes "to make abortion disappear in America", that gays are “against nature and harmful to society” and he wishes to bring back Virginia’s unconstitutional Crimes Against Nature law which outlaws anal and oral sex (his defence is that he wishes to police peadophilia with it).

He covered up the boob of a Roman goddess in the state’s seal to make it "PG" and is all for abstinence-only education. He also tried to remove a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at Virginia’s state colleges, and accepted “gifts” from a donor he didn’t declare; although no illegality was found in Cuccinelli’s case it is still stinky, as it is when you accept gifts from a chap who runs a company your office is supposed to be suing. What makes it even worse for Cuccinelli is his running mate for Lieutenant Governor, a pastor called EW Jackson who is even more prone to extreme outbursts.
According to NBC’s Chuck Todd, 75% of the adverts put out by the campaigns of Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have been negative. In other words, two unlikable candidates have spent most of the year trashing each other.
Really, it's easy to feel sorry for the people of Virginia who have to choose one of them in November.

Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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