Ken Cuccinelli blazing own path in Virginia gubernatorial campaign

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II will formally accept the Republican nomination for governor Saturday, but he’ll stand alone at the top of the GOP with neither the man he hopes to succeed nor his onetime rival for the nomination in Richmond to help him unify the party.

Gov. Bob McDonnell is scheduled to deliver a commencement address at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise in the southwestern part of the state, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who ditched his own governor’s bid, has planned a fishing trip in West Virginia.

That might actually be to Mr. Cuccinelli’s liking, said Quentin Kidd, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University.

“From day one of this current term, he has essentially said he was going to stake out his own political/policy course, so I don’t think Cuccinelli has ever expected to get anywhere with the help of Bob McDonnell or Bill Bolling,” he said.

Still, Morton Blackwell, the state’s Republican national committeeman, said that similar to 2009, when Mr. McDonnell cruised to an easy win, Virginia Republicans are hungry to avenge disappointing losses in the previous year.

“We certainly had a major effort to get the party united when it became clear that Cuccinelli would be unopposed,” Mr. Blackwell said. “I think there is already a lot of enthusiasm across Virginia.”

It’s a far cry from election night 2009, when Mr. Cuccinelli proudly brandished a “McBollinelli” broom to signify a Republican sweep of the top three statewide positions and solidarity with his ticket mates.

Shaun Kenney, a longtime GOP activist in the state and current chairman of the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors, said the Bolling-Cuccinelli tension is still palpable. Mr. Bolling, who stepped aside from a gubernatorial bid in 2009 to unify state Republicans behind Mr. McDonnell, had expected similar treatment from Mr. Cuccinelli and has been vocal in his criticism of the more conservative attorney general. Mr. Kenney also noted the split between Republican supporters of Mr. McDonnell’s transportation package during this year’s General Assembly session and opponents who balked at its tax increases.

“For all the talk about the conservatives and the establishment and all that, I wish you’d see more statesmen, and we’re just not seeing that now,” Mr. Kenney said. “It’s a bit tenuous, unfortunately. You’ve really got a quiet civil war being waged in the Virginia Republican Party now. It’s almost like we’ve got a good case of ‘frenemies’ between Bolling and Cuccinelli at the moment.”

Democrats are trying to highlight Mr. Cuccinelli’s positions on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, as well as his connections to Jonnie R. Williams and Star Scientific, Mr. Williams’ company, which is currently embroiled in a complicated tax dispute with the state.

Mr. Cuccinelli amended his financial disclosure statements last month to add about $5,000 in gifts from Mr. Williams, saying he forgot to report them. He also recently recused himself from a case where the company sued the state two years ago over a tax assessment, and says he hasn’t spoken to Mr. Williams in months.

Meanwhile, the FBI is reportedly looking into the relationship between Mr. Williams and the McDonnell family after it surfaced that the governor signed a $15,000 check from Mr. Williams to cover the catering costs for his daughter’s wedding.

Mr. McDonnell said last month that neither Mr. Williams nor any other benefactors have received special treatment during his time in office and that he saw it as a gift for his daughter, which by law would not have to be disclosed.

The probe involves Todd Schneider, the former chef at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, who is moving to dismiss an embezzlement case against him and claimed Mr. Cuccinelli’s ties to Mr. Williams presented a conflict of interest. Mr. McDonnell has been appointed outside counsel in the case after Mr. Cuccinelli recused himself.

But Republicans are dinging the presumptive Democratic nominee, self-described “hustler” and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who quietly resigned in December as chairman of beleaguered GreenTech Automotive. GreenTech was supposed to serve as proof of Mr. McAuliffe’s business acumen but has not lived up to previously projected production or employment levels. He remains an investor in the company.

The candidates themselves have turned more recently to unveiling nascent policy outlines — something Mr. Kidd expects will continue past Saturday’s nominating convention.

“In some ways, we can only go up,” he said. “I think we’ll have more substance than we’re giving them credit for.”

Recent polls show a close race, with much of the electorate undecided or unfamiliar with one or both of the candidates months away from Election Day. Dueling surveys released Thursday gave Mr. McAuliffe a 5-point lead among registered voters in a poll from Quinnipiac University, while Mr. Cuccinelli led by 8 points among likely voters in a poll conducted for the conservative advocacy group Citizens United.

Though outside groups are starting to elbow their way in, Mr. McAuliffe is outpacing Mr. Cuccinelli in the money game. The Democrat amassed $6.3 million from July through March and ended that period with about $5.2 million on hand. Mr. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, raised $4.4 million since January 2012 and had nearly $3 million on hand as of March 31, 2013.

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