- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2013

Last week’s Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage have amplified a split in the Republican Party between social conservatives urging a call to arms and a more libertarian wing that says it’s an issue for the states to decide.

So in which camp is Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who has defended the state’s 2006 ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage?

“I don’t characterize myself either way. I really think of myself just within Virginia,” he told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “You want to drag me out of Virginia, and I’m focused on Virginia. I’m going to defend what we’ve done in Virginia.”

The careful response from the rock-ribbed conservative is illustrative. It demonstrates how the GOP nominee to be Virginia’s 72nd governor and his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, are working furiously to avoid one potentially fatal pitfall: having the opposition define you before you define yourself.

Indeed, Democrats are trying to paint Mr. Cuccinelli as a crusading culture warrior, but he says that’s because they don’t have anything else to talk about.

“My opponent wants to make the whole race about social issues because he’s got no economic plan,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “He knows how to say the word ‘jobs,’ but he hasn’t explained to anyone how he expects to see more of them in Virginia because he’s governor and under policies he would advance.”

That is not to say Mr. Cuccinelli is underestimating his opponent — far from it, in fact.

“His greatest strength in the campaign phase is his 30-plus years of fundraising. I mean, he is really good at it. He’s just flat-out good at it,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

But Mr. Cuccinelli also said that a weak farm system for Democrats in the state has left them grumbling publicly and privately about their candidate.

Although several other names were mentioned to run for governor this year, Mr. McAuliffe — who came in a distant second in the party’s gubernatorial primary four years ago — ultimately emerged unopposed.

“When they don’t have their own competition, then they start grousing about their flip-flopping candidates because they’re flopping to places that the base doesn’t like,” Mr. Cucinelli said. “To wake up a month ago and then suddenly be a fan of coal and then watch the president [recently] renew the war on coal it’s not realistic to think that a Gov. Terry McAuliffe is going to go to bat against President Obama’s EPA if that need arises, and I think that’s the direction we’re heading.”

After Mr. Obama’s speech on climate change last week, Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign said there needs to be a balance between new energy and the fact that coal is a large part of the state’s energy mix. The campaign said the Democratic candidate would be “seriously concerned” about regulations that would result in the closure of power plants.

In 2009, Mr. McAuliffe was more blunt, saying that “we have got to move past coal.”

“As governor, I never want another coal plant built,” he said at the time.

Mr. Cuccinelli isn’t buying the recent conversion.

“This is such a job killer, and there’s never been much distance between Terry McAuliffe and President Obama on these sorts of things,” he said. “So you add to that the offshore drilling, which he was against in ‘09, he was against in 2010, he was against in 2011, he was against in 2012, and then, lo and behold, the field cleared and all of a sudden, well, maybe drilling for oil offshore isn’t such a bad idea.”

Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign has said that because of technological progress, he now supports legislation that would allow for oil and natural gas exploration off Virginia’s coast — a measure sponsored by the state’s two U.S. senators, Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats.

Mr. Cuccinelli chuckled at the rationale.

“Really? Like the blowout valves — they work so great now, right?” he said. “Fortunately in Virginia, we don’t have that kind of Deepwater we’d be dealing with. Nonetheless, that was rather farcical.”

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