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“If not for McDonnell’s [problems], this would not be a race right now,” said Mr. Kenney, chairman of the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors. “We cannot play our strongest cards against Terry McAuliffe.”

Mr. Cuccinelli in recent weeks had taken steps to distance himself from Mr. McDonnell, pointing out in a recent ad that he initiated the independent investigation into the governor’s activities.

Mr. Cuccinelli said he’s going to focus the remaining weeks of his campaign against Mr. McAuliffe on what he’s done for the people of Virginia and what he intends to do. But Democrats — who prodded Mr. Cuccinelli on the subject for weeks — also reversed course and called the Tuesday announcement “curious,” suggesting what their strategy might be going forward.

“As recently as two weeks ago, he rejected the notion that he needed to return any gifts because he had done nothing wrong,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee said. “That begs the question — if he feels he did nothing wrong, why donate the money to charity?