Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II on Thursday staked out strong libertarian positions on police surveillance and embraced populist ideas to streamline major parts of state government as he tries to rally Republicans and close a gap in the polls heading into the final weeks of Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign.
Mr. Cuccinelli, in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, cast himself as “the most pro-liberty elected statewide official in my lifetime,” reinforcing his support for restraint on the use of technologies like drones and other surveillance technology by law enforcement personnel.
“This goes to cameras and other stuff as well. I have always been on the restraint side of this, whether its traffic cameras or whether its surveillance devices for law enforcement,” he said. “We need to shackle the new technology with the old rules. And normally, you talk in terms of going the other way, but not when you’re protecting civil liberties.”
The comments come as a new NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll put Mr. Cuccinelli 8 percentage points behind his Democratic rival, Terry McAuliffe. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis is at 9 percent.
But the Republican said the numbers he’s seeing put him within the margin of error ahead of the Nov. 5 contest. He said a comparatively high number of voters who see him unfavorably can be attributed in part to a relentless campaign run by the well-funded Mr. McAuliffe in a manner similar to the one President Obama used to defeat Republican Mitt Romney in both the overall election and in Virginia last year.
“I’ve never seen lying like I’ve seen in this race, and, you know, how do you deal with that?” he said.
The accusation is nothing new in a scorched-earth campaign that has seen both sides employ negative tactics and accuse one another of peddling falsehoods.
But Mr. Cuccinelli said his plan for the home stretch of the race is to focus on taxes, emphasizing his estimate that Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign pledges would require a tax increase of $1,700 on Virginia families. He contrasts that with his own $1.4 billion tax cut proposal paid for, in part, by eliminating tax exemptions and credits in the state code. He said his goal is to get rid of the bottom 15 percent of tax credits, and possibly more, after convening a bipartisan group to scrutinize them.
“You know, there’s a ton of ‘em,” Mr. Cuccinelli said in response to a question about whether he had a “favorite” tax credit that’s an example of one that would not fit his criteria of having a broad economic benefit.
“You asked for a favorite, so I won’t necessarily speak in economic terms, but you get a tax credit for donating to political candidates,” he said, adding that the credit was small but that it had “nothing to do with growing our economy.”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No straight-faced argument could be made with the goal I’ve stated to keep that one,” he said.
The credit is equal to half the contributions made to candidates for state and local offices, capped at $25 for an individual taxpayer or $50 for people filing a joint return. A 2011 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that in 2008 the credit cost the state about $821,000.
He also said he planned an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort for Election Day, but did not elaborate on the details.
Asked to identify a state government agency he thought could be trimmed, Mr. Cuccinelli said that despite cuts in recent years he saw opportunities to reduce bureaucracy at the Virginia Department of Transportation and its nine highway districts.
“In VDOT, we have districts and regions. One of ‘em’s gonna go under me,” he said. “We’ve got two layers of middle management. We do not need that. It doesn’t serve Virginia well. They don’t even overlap properly. So we’re going to wipe out one entire level of that management — don’t know whether it’ll be the regions or the districts, doesn’t matter a lot to me. We’ll take a look at which one is more relevant to the day-to-day functioning of VDOT.”
He said he might hold online town halls for the public during the final weeks of the campaign and, to the extent he can, continue a heavy focus on individualized voter outreach.
“I really prefer that kind of campaigning,” he said. “It’s hard for me to do in a statewide race because Virginia is so big and it’s hard to reach a significant fraction of them personally.”
But with the campaign entering its final weeks, Mr. Cuccinelli said he expects voters will pay more attention to the issues and see he is the better choice for governor.
“The truth is our friend,” he said, “And people will tune in. Active attention by a voter goes a long way.”