For Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the stakes were high at Thursday night's final debate before the election of Virginia's next governor, and he and his opponent, Terry McAuliffe, used the televised event to aggressively point fingers at each other.
Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli, down in the polls and with a dwindling campaign fund, needs this debate to make his mark with voters. He and Democrat McAuliffe, a businessman, poked and criticized each other, using the bitter government shutdown and divisions over Obamacare as focus points.
Cuccinelli charged that a Medicaid expansion supported by McAuliffe in Virginia will trigger the kind of government incompetence that the Obama administration's federal healthcare website has clearly illustrated, Politico reported.
"Send Washington a message and say 'No' to Terry McAuliffe's expanded Obamacare by voting for me on Nov. 5," Cuccinelli said in his opening statement.
McAuliffe then reprimanded Cuccinelli because he's declined to say if he'd support the compromise that ended the 16-day government shutdown, casting the attorney general as a tea-party hardliner while portraying himself as someone who could work with both sides to reach bipartisan solutions.
"Just this week he refused to say whether he supported reopening government," McAuliffe said, The Washington Post reported.
Cuccinelli pushed back: "Terry not only supported Obamacare, he didn't think it went far enough. Can you imagine?"
The election comes down to "a simple question," McAuliffe said. "Who will work with both parties to focus on jobs and education?"
But gun control came up twice during the hour-long debate held at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed by a gunman in 2007.
Cuccinelli defended the rights of gun owners, saying tougher laws would not have prevented the massacre, reported WRC-TV,
an NBC affiliate in Washington.
McAuliffe insisted government has a role in keeping people safe, and tougher laws, such as expanded background checks, could help the effort. "Some people should not own guns,'' he said, Politico reported.
"My opponent likes to say I got an F from the NRA," he added. "I don't care what grade I got from the NRA. As governor, I want to make sure our communities are safe."
McAuliffe also came out swinging on social issues, saying Cuccinelli has supported a so-called "personhood" amendment that would outlaw the most common forms of birth control. He chastised Cuccinelli for "bullying" the Board of Health to tighten rules for abortion clinics, and accused the attorney general of wanting to make it harder to obtain a divorce.
"We have got to stop this attack on women," McAuliffe said. "We've got to stop this attack on gay Virginians. We can't put walls up if we're going to grow."
Cuccinelli counter-punched, claiming McAuliffe knows his charge is "flat-out false."
"That personhood bill he likes to hang a lot on, it was a bipartisan bill," said Cuccinelli, noting that Democrats also voted for bills restricting abortion. "You've got to be careful not [to believe] what he's saying in that area."
Responding more aggressively, Cuccinelli charged that McAuliffe "did nothing for Virginia or Virginians before deciding to run for governor. Nothing."
Instead, he said, "My opponent's plan has been to attack me and scare Virginians — especially women — into voting for him; to speak in platitudes."
Chiding McAuliffe for what he claimed was a lack of substance, Cuccinelli said, "I like puppies. But I don't bring a puppy home if I don't have a plan to take care of that puppy."
McAuliffe, he said, is "all puppy."
In his opening remarks, McAuliffe called himself someone "who will work with both parties to focus on jobs and education," and portrayed Cuccinelli as someone who "has become increasingly desperate" by lobbing "false attacks."
McAuliffe frequently cited his endorsements by Republicans as evidence that he could work with the GOP as well as his own party.
"Compromise is not a bad word. My opponent will not compromise," McAuliffe said.
While the candidates went at each other, their campaigns debated on Twitter in The Washington Post.
Cuccinelli's team tweeted:
McAuliffe's campaign punched back:
McAuliffe has held a comfortable lead in the polls
going into the debate.
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