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The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Cuccinelli Campaign

1:58 PM, Oct 28, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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What's wrong with Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's Republican candidate for governor? He's losing by nearly 10 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics, to Terry McAuliffe, the flawed Democrat. The conventional wisdom is that Cuccinelli is too conservative on social issues, and the McAuliffe campaign has run ads painting the Republican as an extremist on abortion, gay rights, and contraception.

Cuccinelli addresses Virginia Tea Partiers, October 9.

Cuccinelli addresses Virginia Tea Partiers, October 9.

Newscom

But conservative activist Maggie Gallagher has argued the opposite--that Cuccinelli has pursued a "truce strategy" on social issues that has to been to the detriment of his campaign. "The truce strategy demoralizes the GOP base and makes it hard for the grass roots to care about Republican candidates," Gallagher argued. "Conservative candidates are advised to deflect or retreat when social issues are raised, and their refusal to speak clearly and hold the line allows Democratic candidates to adopt more extreme positions, energizing their own base and unleashing a flood of money at no political cost."

Meanwhile, Libertiarian party candidate Robert Sarvis is casting himself, at least in part, as a socially liberal alternative to Cuccinelli. Those libertarian-leaning voters who don't like Cuccinelli's conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage ought to vote for Sarvis, goes the argument. That could explain why Cuccinelli's losing a big chunk of his potential voters to Sarvis (up to 10 percent, according to some polls). In an interview last week, Cuccinelli argued that libertarians in Virginia ought to vote for him.

"I’m the most pro-liberty elected official statewide in my lifetime," he told me. "It isn’t even a close call, so for people who care about protecting liberty, there’s never been, again in my lifetime in Virginia, a statewide elected official who’s been as aggressive and consistent about doing that as I have."

Furthermore, Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner argues that if elected, Cuccinelli would be the most libertarian governor in the country. Here's Carney's convincing case: 

Republican governors who sing paeans to the free market almost always make exceptions in order to be more “pro-business.” Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has angered much of his state’s business lobby by running against corporate welfare, opposing the tax hikes that Northern Virginia developers are seeking to pay for roads and public services and pledging to put special-interest tax credits on the chopping block.

Cuccinelli also often chooses government restraint over “law and order.”

When Virginia’s GOP tried to expand the death penalty in 2009, Cuccinelli was the only Republican to vote no — during a competitive GOP primary for attorney general.

Although not ready to support drug legalization like Sarvis, Cuccinelli has criticized the drug war as overzealous, and he said jailing marijuana dealers is a waste of taxpayer money. He told me he’s open to legalizing pot in Virginia if things go well in Colorado and Washington.

Attorney General Cuccinelli crusaded to exonerate Thomas Haynesworth, a black man wrongly convicted and jailed for 27 years. Cuccinelli argued successfully in court to get Haynseworth a rare “writ of actual innocence” — a feat only possible because state Sen. Cuccinelli had championed a law to make such exoneration easier.

And Molly Ball of the Atlantic describes Cuccinelli as the example of the libertarian-tinged Tea Party's limits in a state like Virginia. She describes the Cuccinelli's approach as "populist-libertarian Republicanism" just as the Tea Party movement seems to be getting exhausted.

So what is it? Is Cuccinelli a libertarian Tea Partier running a few years too late? A socially conservative extremist out of step with modern Virginia? Too timid on social issues? Not pro-liberty enough?

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