McAuliffe vs. Cuccinelli: Virginia gubernatorial candidates debate in McLean

Terry McAuliffe, left, and Ken Cuccinelli debate Wednesday night in McLean. (AP)

McLEAN, Va. (WJLA) – Virginia's gubernatorial candidates both went heavily on the offensive Wednesday night, with Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli painting his challenger as inexperienced and Democrat Terry McAuliffe accusing his rival of attacking gay Virginians by being against gay marriage.

With the McAuliffe leading Virginia’s attorney general in several polls, Cuccinelli came at McAuliffe almost immediately, first shaking his head dismissively during McAuliffe’s opening statement and soon thereafter ripping his opponent for what he labeled ever-changing positions and a behind-the-scenes “quid pro quo” mentality.

“He doesn’t know how Virginia government works," Cuccinelli said of McAuliffe during the debate in McLean. "Government is not a good entry level job.”

McAuliffe, meanwhile, did his best to blunt criticism of his background as little more than a Democratic cheerleader and fundraiser and then promptly shifted to barbs about Cuccinelli’s relatively extremist views on social issues and the Star Scientific gifts scandal that for the past several months have besieged Gov. Bob McDonnell and, to a lesser extent, Cuccinelli.

When McAuliffe referred to Cuccinelli’s “attack on gay Virginians, Cuccinelli replied that the accusation was “offensively false.”

At points, however, both candidates were at a loss for details on their plans.

Cuccinelli defended his plans for a major tax cut with scant details about how he would deal with the lost revenue. McAuliffe defended his plans for major education reform with no details about where the funding would come from.

With the D.C. Navy Yard shooting that claimed the lives of 12 victims fresh in many people's mind, the candidates were asked about gun control.

McAuliffe stressed his desire for universal background checks when purchasing firearms. Cuccinelli countered that he “has not found gun control effective” in finding potential buyers who suffer from mental illness.

Asked about the looming prospects of a government shutdown, Cuccinelli was asked about the tactic of Ted Cruz, who’s doing everything in his power to get Obamacare defunded. He more or less skirted the question.

“I’d like to see Obamacare pulled out of federal law,” he said, “but we’ve got to keep moving forward.”

From McAuliffe: “I think it’s disgraceful what’s going on in Washington. . . Shame on everybody.”

Cuccinelli reiterated his disdain for the expansion of Medicaid while McAuliffe reiterated his belief that it absolutely has to be expanded.

On gay marriage, McAuliffe repeated his support for marriage equality while acknowledging it would be a difficult, if not impossible, task to get a change in Virginia laws on that subject. Cuccinelli repeated that marriage “should be between one man and one woman.”

Both candidates declined to say whether they were in favor of changing the name of the Redskins.

The debate was sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and hosted by NBC News political director Chuck Todd. The third and final debate – the first was last summer in Hot Springs -- is scheduled for Oct. 24 on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg.