- - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Democrats in Northern Virginia have watched enough of “The Sopranos” to know it only takes a few carefully chosen words to deliver a message of intimidation. The Democrats are telling technology executives they had better support Terry McAuliffe for governor in November if they know what’s good for them.

The veiled threats and a scramble of behind-the-scenes telephone calls began once technology executives lined up behind Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate. Northern Virginia is home to a number of the most innovative technology companies, and they’re looking for a candidate whose vision matches theirs. Trustees of the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s political action committee, TechPAC, voted last week to endorse Mr. Cuccinelli. The Democratic arm-twisting began, with business leaders receiving the message that the doors to the governor’s office would be slammed shut unless they buy a ticket on the McAuliffe bandwagon.

State Senate Republicans were stunned by the Chicago-style tactics imported to the Old Dominion. “It is outrageous and unconscionable,” says state Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, “that Senate Democrats would even hint at endangering the future legislative agenda of a group representing such a vital part of Virginia’s economy, [and] for purely partisan purposes. Thinly veiled threats have no place in the General Assembly.”

TechPAC, under the leadership of McLean Capital chief executive Dendy Young, didn’t fold. “The TechPAC board of trustees concluded that Ken Cuccinelli’s experience in Virginia government, command of the issues, and knowledge of key technology priorities will serve him well as governor in working to ensure the Commonwealth remains a competitive and innovative global technology center,” he said. On the other hand, the Democratic minority leader in the state Senate, Richard L. Saslaw, told The Washington Post that a TechPAC endorsement of Mr. Cuccinelli was the “same as in the 1960s, the NAACP supporting George Wallace.” We’re not sure what that fractured sentence actually means, but we’ll guess.

Tech leaders made their choice after spending hours with each candidate. Mr. Cuccinelli’s answers were said to be sharp, on point and relevant to the council’s business concerns. Mr. McAuliffe was said to have been hazy about several key issues, was not perceived as serious or prepared, and thus didn’t gain TechPAC’s confidence.

Surely other issues came into play, such as Mr. McAuliffe’s failure to deliver on his promise to build an electric-car factory in Virginia and relocating it to Mississippi, and despite calling in state and federal favors to back the project, never actually built many cars. Fool business leaders once, and they’re not eager to offer second chances.

Virginia’s gubernatorial race has been dominated by the typically ugly advertisements that have been a feature of American politics since Thomas Jefferson persuaded his friends at the old Richmond Examiner to describe his rival, John Adams, as “a hideous, hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Loathsome words are one thing; threats are another. We’re confident the voters of Virginia will measure the difference.