Democrat Terry McAuliffe has said throughout the campaign for Virginia governor that his Republican opponent’s views on divisive ideological and social issues threaten to cost the commonwealth jobs, business and tourism dollars.
But the state that passed a ban on gay marriage in 2006 and has drawn national headlines for controversial bills and regulations related to contraception and abortion in the past two years set an all-time record for tourism last year and has seen its unemployment rate, already well below the national average, drop nearly two full points since the throes of the recession.
Both at candidate forums and on the stump, Mr. McAuliffe has made a point of Republican Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II’s support of measures like “personhood” that some say could outlaw common forms of birth control. The Democrat has also characterized the attorney general’s comments about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as “extreme” and inimical to economic growth in the state.
“We cannot be putting walls up around Virginia, we cannot be attacking members of the LGBT community,” Mr. McAuliffe said at a forum several months ago. “I was in Virginia Beach We were with 20 tourism folks. They’re losing business because of the rhetoric.”
Mr. Cuccinelli was quoted in 2008 as describing the “homosexual agenda” as something that he believes brings “nothing but self-destruction.” He tried last month to clarify that he does not believe government legislation should address contraception, but he has defended his positions on abortion and gay marriage.
Asked for other examples of how social positions have affected Virginia’s economy, Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign provided testimonials from several GOP business leaders who said they were worried and from a political scientist who said much of the state’s business community would probably like to see social issues put on the back burner.
Regardless, visitors generated $21.2 billion for Virginia’s economy last year, a 4 percent increase over the previous year and a new high for the state, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Wednesday. Tourism revenues have increased every year since Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, was sworn into office in 2010, growing by a total of 12.3 percent.
Information on tourism for localities was not immediately available for last year, but local tax receipts generated by domestic travel in Virginia Beach have increased 3.8 percent since 2008 and employment has increased 2.3 percent, according to state data.
The McAuliffe campaign also has consistently pointed to a letter Mr. Cuccinelli sent to state colleges and universities in March 2010 advising that they could not include protections for LGBT employees in their anti-discrimination policies.
At the time, the state was involved in an intense regional battle with the District and Maryland to lure the corporate headquarters of defense giant Northrop Grumman Corp. away from California.
Mr. McAuliffe, citing a 2010 article in The New York Times, has argued on the campaign trail that the letter jeopardized the potential deal.
But a Northrop Grumman spokesman Wednesday said the three primary criteria the company used to select the corporate office site were proximity to its customer base, the availability of local real estate and economic incentives offered by local jurisdictions. Virginia offered some $12 million to $14 million.
The company ultimately ended up in Falls Church.
In fact, it chose Virginia despite urging from Maryland state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Montgomery Democrat, who pitched his state’s gay-friendly environment as a reason for the defense giant to relocate on the north side of the Potomac.
“Here in Maryland, we value our gay and lesbian citizens as part of a diverse population that makes the state strong,” Mr. Madaleno wrote the company’s CEO in February 2010, shortly after Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced the state would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Virginia residents approved a ballot measure in 2006 constitutionally barring same-sex marriages from being performed or recognized. The District legalized gay marriage in 2009 and Maryland legalized it last year.