Cuccinelli savors health care win

Virginian fights wide federal power

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The fallout from the health care ruling continued Tuesday asthe Justice Department announced it would appeal the ruling, likely ensuring that Mr. Cuccinelli’s profile continues to grow as the case winds its way through the appeals courts and toward an eventual Supreme Court showdown.

Political observers say that could help him if he runs for higher office in 2012, when Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, is up for re-election, or 2013, when the state governor’s mansion opens again.

“This ruling puts him on the political fast track, because he will get much of the credit for scoring a kill shot into the heart of Obama’s health care plan,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist.

But Mr. Cuccinelli’s Democratic opponents predict that his political star will fizzle when people become more familiar with his “extreme” political philosophy.

They accuse him of using the attorney general’s office as a political springboard to a higher political post, saying his office is too concerned with ideological battles aimed at giving the administration a bloody nose.

“He says he’s for less government, yet he’s utilizing his office to pursue every political issue that he perceives important to his constituency,” said C. Richard Cranwell, who recently stepped down as chairman of the state Democratic Party. “My assessment is that he is not worried about the citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia; he is worried about jockeying himself into position for president of the United States or governor of Virginia.”

Mr. Cranwell said the national political atmosphere eventually will come “back to the middle and when it does, he is going to get gobbled up in the electoral process, just like Democrats did a month ago.”

“I’ve been around for a long time, and let me tell you the dragon is after him,” he said. “He just doesn’t know it.”

The kind of criticism has followed Mr. Cuccinelli during his career in the state legislature, where he became a poster boy of sorts for the conservative movement, pushing legislation to curb abortion access, to crack down on illegal immigrants, to defend property rights and to fight what he has described as “the homosexual agenda.” He also played a prominent role in changing the state’s mental health laws after gunman Seung-hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty on the campus of Virginia Tech.

His political achievements made him a good fit for the “tea party” movement, which shared many of his anti-government views and rallied behind his candidacy.

But his decisions also have irked some members of the conservative base.

He recently released an opinion that said a proposal from Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, a Republican, that would require police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest was redundant and unconstitutional.

While the decision and ensuing political spat turned heads, it provided some evidence that his constitutional reads are nonpartisan in nature.

“I have been a defender of the Constitution as it was written for my entire political life,” he said.

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