Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe sparred over local issues and lobbed personal attacks at each other in their first televised debate in their battle for Virginia governor Wednesday night.
Cuccinelli, the attorney general, charged that McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who has never held political office, lacked the experience to serve as the commonwealth's chief executive.
"I'm the only candidate in this race who won't need on-the-job training if you elect me your governor," Cuccinelli said, according to a transcript of the debate in The Washington Post
He later added: "Folks, governor is not a good entry-level job. But that's what it would be for Terry. I already know what works well."
McAuliffe charged his opponent with pushing a "social ideological agenda," replete with issues that are too conservative for the commonwealth's 8 million residents.
“He has pushed personhood legislation, which would outlaw most forms of contraception, would make the pill illegal in Virginia," McAuliffe said. "He bullied the Board of Health that would shut down the women’s health centers. . . . You cannot grow an economy by putting walls up around Virginia.”
Cuccinelli further charged that his Democratic rival had spent his career involved in questionable business dealings. “Terry will fight for Terry because he always has,” he said.
“If Terry becomes governor, we’ll have to change the state’s motto from sic semper tyrannis to quid pro quo,” Cuccinelli said.
Both men are campaigning to succeed Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell.
The debate, hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, came as surveys showed that Cuccinelli has been consistently trailing McAuliffe in the polls
A Washington Posts poll showed McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli among likely voters, 47 percent to 39, while an NBC News survey showed McAuliffe at 43 percent, versus 38 percent for the attorney general.
The debate was moderated by NBC Political Director Chuck Todd, who often pushed the candidates to be specific on their claims, particularly when it came to detailing the costs of their programs.
At one point, he asked McAuliffe, on the issue of expanding education: "You didn’t give us a price tag. Why can’t you — you've been running for governor for four years. Why can’t you give us a price tag on what you want to — what spending you want to expand? What’s the price tag?"
The Democratic then detailed how he would broaden pre-school education and improve teacher pay.
For his part, Cuccinelli sought to distance himself from some of his earlier more conservative positions.
“You may not always agree with me in this race, but you’ll always know where I stand and why I hold the positions that I do,” Cuccinelli said. “When it comes to economic competitiveness, job creation and higher education, I know we can all work together to make Virginia a better place to live with lasting results.
"But it takes a governor who will fight for those issues and not for their own self-interest.”
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