DUMFRIES, Va. (WJLA) Ken Cuccinelli often surprises people when they first meet him. The Virginia Attorney General, who is running for governor for the commonwealth, is humble and unpretentious. He’s far from the firebrand that he’s portrayed as by his opponent and others on the left.
Yes, he believes what he believes and makes no apologies or tries to pretend otherwise. To wit, he’s not a fan of same-sex marriage, abortion, homosexuals in general and homosexual acts specifically, global-warming alarmists, the Social Security concept and Obamacare or its namesake.
But he doesn’t preen, he simply plods along in the name of his view of the world and Virginia.
And he’ll stand there casually with his hands in his pants pockets at a recent Prince William County Republican Party gathering long after he has finished delivering his stump remarks.
He blends into the crowd. Simply stands around. Not overtly mingling. Just another guy at a picnic. No pretense.
Just a guy.
“Well, I mean, I’m not sure what to say to that (observation),” he says with an almost sheepishly with a grin. “Thanks, I think.”
In print or in campaign television ads, his strident stands often come across as draconian. In person, he’ll more or less say that yeah, he believes in those things, and then literally shrug.
Cuccinelli has no doubt, though, about why he wanted to run for governor.
Asked directly about his decision, he revs up the animation meter – at least as much as a soft-spoken person who sometimes talks so softly it’s difficult to hear him can rev up the animation meter.
“Look, I’m a guy with strongly held opinions, and one day my wife said, when I was complaining about how things were going, she said, ‘Well, why don’t you run for office?’ ’’ Cuccinelli says. “She was the first one to decide on every one of these races, and so a lot of those passions with me into the state senate, and then as attorney general, it was the community focus, making Virginia a better place. And part of it was defending first principles, which really means a lot to me.
“This is an important contest that we’re facing right now in this country, and how these defending first principles in trying to help Virginia be as great as it can be, leads us to the kinds of things we’ve talked about in this race.”
A SURPRISING ALLY
Cuccinelli, born July 20 in 1968 in Edison, N.J., is the grandson of an Italian immigrant, the father of five daughters and two sons and the husband of his high school crush, Teiro. He has spent his adult life in Northern Virginia, where he began his career in politics as a member of the state senate in 2002.
Chris Day met Cuccinelli in 1992 when the two attended law school together at George Mason University, and they went on to begin a law firm, Cuccinelli & Day, in Fairfax, that specialized in intellectual property protection and patents.
Day has to stifle a chuckle when asked about the, well, the Cuccinelli caricature.
“. . .Some sort of a monster, and he isn’t,” Day says. “He’s a very reasonable person. He’s a very nice guy. I’ve known him for more than 20 years now, and I can tell you that he’s a straight shooter. You ask Democrats and Republicans alike, and they’ll say the same thing: He’ll say he’s going to do something, and he does it. He keeps his word, he keeps his promises, and I think that gets lost in all these 30-second sound bites.”
Another good friend of Cuccinelli is quite the unlikely good friend.
That would be Roanoke-based Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, an insider in national Democratic politics who has helped construct winning campaigns for such Virginia Democrats as Jim Webb, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, as well as North Carolina’s now-idled John Edwards.
For a variety of reasons, Saunders is not a McAuliffe fan, much of it having to do with things such as jobs going overseas. He’s fiercely adamant about certain Democratic principles that boil down to the big guy vs. the little guy.
“I’m a Democrat, and Terry McAuliffe ain’t no damn Democrat,” Saunders says. “I’m what’s known as a Jacksonian-Jim Webb Democrat. I believe in two guiding principles, via Jim Webb, and that’s social justice and economic fairness. And McAuliffe talks social justice, but I think that economic fairness and social justice goes together, and he has no record at all of supporting economic fairness.”
“I mean, he certainly could moderate some (of his) positions, but we don’t talk a lot about politics when I talk to Cooch,” Saunders says. “We talk about family and shootin’ – and he’s a great skeet shot. He’s a cracker-jack guy, and he’s honest. As a person, I don’t like Cooch. I love the Cooch.”
To a point, anyway.
Cuccinelli called Saunders a month or so ago, and during the conversation asked him his opinion of the campaign so far.
Mudcat replied that, basically, the two were and will remain divided on social issues.
“He said, ‘I understand,’ ’’ Saunders says, “And I said, ‘So we can agree to disagree on that. But what the hell is it that you have against queers? I’ve never been able to figure that one out.’ But I think that’s his worst issue – well, scratch that, I think Bob McDonnell’s his worst issue.’’
DISTANCING FROM MCDONNELL
Ah, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Star Scientific. Jonnie Williams. The gifts. The on-going investigation. The guilt by association – especially after Cuccinelli initially didn’t follow McDonnell’s lead and return or reimburse all financial favors provided by the Virginia businessman but now has, in the form of an $18,000 donation to charity.
Cuccinelli has done his best to distance himself from the situation but readily acknowledges it’s not going away.
Asked about this, noted political pundit Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics is blunt.
“Cuccinelli has a pile of troubles, some directly traceable to him and some not of his own making,” Sabato says. “No one could have foreseen the McDonnell gifts scandal, which has drawn in Cuccinelli too. Even if he’s not indicted, McDonnell has been eliminated as an advantage for the GOP ticket—and he once would have been a sizeable one.
“. . .Even more predictable, Cuccinelli’s very conservative positions on many social issues are major pieces of baggage in a moderate state.”
WANTING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Back at the Prince William picnic, Cuccinelli has more or less tuned out those problems. He knows they’re there, and also realizes there’s not a whole heck of a lot he can do about them.
And of the perception by some that he’s bent on destroying every social issue that’s near to many Democrats’ heart?
“When Larry Sabato introduced me to his class (one time), he said an interesting thing in the introduction,” Cuccinelli says. “He said, you know, you hear a small bit about these guys, meaning people running for office, and they’re all more complicated than what you ever read. There’s a lot more to them.”
Cuccinelli sighs before continuing.
“I’m going to leave the attorney general’s office having helped exonerate more wrongly convicted felons than any AG in history, and I’m proud of that record,” he says. “. . .That’s an important history to me. It’s very motivating for me. Making a difference one person at a time, and it helps balance the scaled between government and individual liberty, and that’s a big deal to me."