- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2013

After record millions spent on TV advertising in Virginia’s governor race, Republican Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II finds himself in the unenviable position of knowing there’s a side to him voters haven’t experienced.

Portrayed by his opponents as a rigid social ideologue, he nevertheless can rap his own rendition of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and is an unapologetic Monty Python fan.

Lambasted by Democrats as uncaring and cold, he remembers the awe of watching his Catholic school care for the poor or the experience of his personal crusade for sexual assault victims in college after one of his friends was attacked.

Mr. Cuccinelli’s much better funded opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, has painted him as a tea party crusader trying to seize power for an extremist wing of his party. His wife, however, remembers a man who started in grass-roots politics and originally made a deal with her that he would never to run for office.

“I did not like politics. I never liked politics — and sometimes I still don’t,” his wife, Teiro, told The Washington Times in a weekend interview.

Therein lies one of the enduring lessons of Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial race: Mr. McAuliffe and a well-funded band of outside liberal groups raced to define Mr. Cuccinelli before the Republican could ever define himself. That has left the attorney general fighting from behind from start to finish as voters head to the polls Tuesday to select the state’s 72nd governor.

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Members of Mr. Cuccinelli’s family delivered a portrait of him working as an intern for L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and the country’s first elected black governor — taking enough of an interest in politics to be involved, but not as a candidate.

“I didn’t feel like I was giving anything up, and we never talked about it again,” the Republican says now of the agreement he made with his wife.

But Mr. Cuccinelli came home one day ranting about a candidate. A flurry of thoughts — Ken’s meant to do something with this, I’m the one standing in the way, I’m the stumbling block — simply came out, Mrs. Cuccinelli said.

“I didn’t verbalize any of that to him until that day, when I said, ‘Well, why don’t you run for office? Why don’t you run against this guy?’” she said.

It was past the deadline to file as a candidate that year, but Mr. Cuccinelli immediately began planning a campaign. After Republican state Sen. Warren Barry endorsed Mark R. Warner for governor in 2001, Mr. Cuccinelli announced plans to run against him.

An appointment to the Warner administration dashed those plans, but he won a special election to fill the vacated seat in 2002 and served as a state senator before getting elected as attorney general in 2009.

Beneath the surface

For his wife, and others who know him well, there’s much more beneath the surface of the rock-ribbed conservative. Opponents deride him as an activist attorney general and crusading social conservative as likely to sue a professor whose science he disagrees with as he is to attempt to take away a woman’s birth control.

A Roman Catholic father of seven, he is trained as a lawyer and an engineer — a combination that might explain how he can come off as a skilled debater and a policy wonk simultaneously.

His political commentaries contain dashes of corny impishness. For example, he has been known to compare a perception that politicians just change the rules when they don’t like an outcome to “Calvinball,” a made-up backyard game from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes where the eponymous boy and his stuffed tiger made up the rules as they played.

When he’s frustrated, he’ll substitute words like “bejabbers” and “bullhonky” for their more colorful cousins.

The chief law enforcement officer of the commonwealth, who prides himself on defending the U.S. and Virginia constitutions, figured out at Gonzaga High School in the District that when he dressed as the Eagle, the school’s mascot, it was fairly easy to skirt the rules.

“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “I learned as a mascot that rules don’t really apply to you. As long as you don’t go crazy with that. You want to go be the 12th man on a football play, they might have an objection, but otherwise if you stay out of the way of the game, you can do most anything.”

“You know, the priests didn’t bother me about it,” he added with a loud laugh.

His brother, Kevin, a doctor from Colorado who was a year behind him at the Jesuit school, gave him somewhat of a backhanded compliment for his troubles.

“He got to stir up the crowd, and I guess it was probably early training ground for some leadership skills that he has,” he said.

Formative years

For the New Jersey-born Mr. Cuccinelli who grew up in Fairfax, attending the Catholic school on North Capitol Street in the District helped calcify much of his current worldview.

“They have a homeless shelter in the school, under the church. I don’t know of another school that does that,” he said. “When I was there, it didn’t have the overnight capacity, but they had the showering, they had the feeding — and right there. It takes it out of the realm of something in the paper that you discuss and puts it in your real life.”

In college at the University of Virginia, Mr. Cuccinelli helped found a group to raise awareness about sexual assault after one of his friends was victimized. It eventually led to his participating in a marathon vigil to publicize the issue among the administration as well.

“I said to him, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Alexia Pittas, another organizer, told The Washington Post several years ago. “This isn’t your issue. I remember him looking at me and saying: This is everybody’s issue.”

That’s much the same way Mr. Cuccinelli sees it now.

“A friend of mine was assaulted, and my reaction was to do something about it. And so from that perspective, people look at some issues like sexual assault and they just assume liberals care about them and I don’t know why,” he said. “I mean, why would anybody not oppose that? There’s no reason anybody might not oppose that.”

“I wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat then anyway, but it just needed to be done, and it was important so I set out to try to do it, and it stays with you,” he continued. “I don’t know of any other person who’s run for governor that I know of has made fighting sexual assault part of their higher-education plan. And I think that’s important. I think we have a lot more to do there. I wish we didn’t, but we do and, you know, that sticks with you.”

Mr. Cuccinelli has choked up on the trail recently, and his voice gets a bit quieter when he talks about Thomas Haynesworth, a man wrongly convicted on rape charges whom Mr. Cuccinelli helped free after he served 27 years behind bars.

“He’s been in politics for about 10 years now, and he’s got a track record of his opponents — Democrats who disagree with his positions, disagree with how he’s going — and he’s got a long track record of folks like that [saying], ‘What you see is what you get,’” said the candidate’s brother, the younger Mr. Cuccinelli. “He doesn’t pull any punches. He says what he means, and he doesn’t change things after he wins an election.”

Mr. Cuccinelli says helping right that wrong is worth everything.

“That’s a big deal to me because I think of the awesomeness of Thomas’ situation,” he said. “I mean, it’s still kind of breathtaking to think of not just 27 years, but from 19 to 46. I mean, I’m 45. And it’s just kind of overwhelming to contemplate, and I’m very proud to have been able to fight to fix that.

“I have a hard time imagining myself being so calm and accepting of that kind of [in]justice,” he added.

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