Virginia candidates for governor try to turn campaign tide

Duck mudslinging to mention issues voters care about

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Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II on Tuesday rolled out a proposal that would overhaul Virginia’s K-12 education system as he and Democrat Terry McAuliffe try to debunk charges that the year’s marquee political race has devolved into little more than a mudslinging fusillade of negative attacks.

Among other measures, Mr. Cuccinelli wants to turn back long-standing provisions barring public money from going to “sectarian” schools and requiring local school districts to approve charter schools within their boundaries, as well as pave the way for more students to be able to transfer from “failing” public schools to charter schools.

“It’s not good enough if the children who live in the right ZIP code are excelling in the classroom and moving on to college and graduate schools, while families trapped within a low income community have a mediocre education at best and a failing school at worst,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

Mr. McAuliffe released his own K-12 proposals in May. Like Mr. Cuccinelli, he wants to overhaul the state’s Standards of Learning SOL tests and support education in science, technology, engineering and math.

Democrats, though, traditionally have opposed the kind of scholarship tax credits championed by Gov. Bob McDonnell and Mr. Cuccinelli, arguing that general fund money would be better spent improving the state’s public schools rather than helping students transfer out and attend private school.

For his part, Mr. McAuliffe on Tuesday also called for tax incentives and a new loan program intended to boost the state’s biotechnology and bioscience industries.

But much of the attention from both sides has been devoted to highlighting their opponents’ perceived vulnerabilities.

Republicans have hammered Mr. McAuliffe over the car company he co-founded, GreenTech Automotive, which is currently ensnared in two federal investigations. Democrats, meanwhile, are dogging Mr. Cuccinelli about $18,000 in gifts he received from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the CEO of nutritional supplement company Star Scientific Inc.

Mr. Williams’ loans and gifts to Mr. McDonnell and his family from Mr. Williams have created headaches for the outgoing governor for the past half year. Mr. McDonnell said this week that all the loans have been repaid in full and the gifts returned.

Despite the tit-for-tat, both candidates, to be sure, have unveiled outlines on what they want to do on specific issues ranging from jobs and the economy to transportation, health care and veterans issues.

After a recent forum, they both bristled at the notion that their campaigns were overly negative.

“If you’re on the road, and you listen to every speech I give every day, I walk through systematically for about 18 minutes exactly what I want to do with specifics on job creation, I talk about education, reforming the SOLs, what we have to do on transportation,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “Now, if the press don’t want to cover it when we’re rolling out our policy platforms, there’s nothing we can do, but we’re going to continue to talk about positive things that I want to get done.”

Mr. Cuccinelli said reporters created the perception that it would be a negative campaign in the spring, fostering the notion of a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” He estimated that three-quarters of his time spent at the recent candidate forum in Manassas was spent talking about his positive vision for the state.

“You know, every campaign, you have a positive case and a negative case,” he said. “Our positive case is these policies we keep rolling out, and our negative case is why you shouldn’t elect Terry McAuliffe.”

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