Fundraising, attack ads stir up Va. governor’s race

No pre-Labor Day respite for busy Cuccinelli, McAuliffe

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The typically sleepy pre-Labor Day lull during Virginia election years has been upended this season by a deluge of ads and fundraising on behalf of Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who are vying to become the Old Dominion’s 72nd governor.

On Wednesday, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) announced an impressive $23.5 million haul for the first half of the year — about $1 million of which went toward its third major ad buy for Mr. Cuccinelli in the past four weeks.

The pro-Cuccinelli political action committee (PAC) Virginia Principles Fund also received $500,000 this week from Robert L. Mercer, a New York hedge fund figure, as the Republican and his allies try to keep pace with Mr. McAuliffe — once dubbed the “greatest fundraiser in the history of the universe” by former Vice President Al Gore.

The RGA has given more than $4.6 million in contributions and in-kind donations to Mr. Cuccinelli’s campaign this year. DGA Action, the super PAC affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association, has given Mr. McAuliffe $2.2 million this year. The DGA raised $13.4 million in the first half of the year, and $1.6 million more through DGA Action and a nonprofit arm.

Mr. McAuliffe has raised $11.1 million this year and finished June with $6 million on hand. Mr. Cuccinelli has raised $7.7 million this cycle and had $2.65 million on hand at the end of June.

The former Democratic National Committee chairman will also get a boost from billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, an ardent foe of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, who recently dipped his toes into the Massachusetts special election in which Democrat Edward J. Markey defeated Republican Gabriel Gomez to fill the Senate seat of Secretary of State John F. Kerry. And former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is slated to host a fundraiser at her D.C. home for Mr. McAuliffe in September.

The McAuliffe campaign debuted a new ad Wednesday hitting Mr. Cuccinelli for his office’s role in a dispute in southwest Virginia over natural gas royalties. The RGA countered with its own attack on Mr. McAuliffe’s former car company, GreenTech Automotive Inc., which has been ensnared in two federal investigations. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

With many election-fatigued voters more concerned with beach trips than politics as summer winds down, the effects of the blitz might not resonate until the race heats up in September and October.

The latest polling average from Real Clear Politics gives Mr. McAuliffe a 1.3-point advantage at 40.3 percent to 39 percent. But the most recent poll included in the sample is a Quinnipiac University survey taken from July 11-15.

And that poll, in which Mr. McAuliffe held a slim four-point advantage, at 43 percent to 39 percent, showed a large swath of Virginians aren’t terribly familiar with either candidate — indicating that disinterested or undecided voters might be making up their minds closer to Election Day.

Thirty percent had a favorable opinion of Mr. McAuliffe compared to 19 percent who had an unfavorable one, but 50 percent said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion.

Mr. Cuccinelli had a more even split, with 31 percent holding a favorable opinion and 30 percent an unfavorable one. And though he’s become a household name for many national politicos and reporters for his high-profile battles with the federal government over health care and carbon emissions, 36 percent of Virginia voters said they didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

“Both of the major party candidates will have underwater approval ratings by Election Day,” predicted Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor and longtime observer of politics in the state.

Mr. Holsworth said dating back to at least the early 1990s Virginia governors have all been elected with some sort of mandate or platform, from George Allen’s pledge to abolish parole to James S. Gilmore III’s push to repeal the car tax, through Mark R. Warner’s and Tim Kaine’s fiscal stewardship to current Gov. Bob McDonnell’s bumper-sticker “Bob’s for jobs” campaign in 2009.

“All of these people got elected with the opportunity to do it,” he said. “That’s going to be the challenge to whoever wins this race — [will it be] ‘mandate’ or ‘least offensive?’ “

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