In a different political environment, it might have been enough to say that Ken Cuccinelli did not believe in climate change.
It might have been enough to say that he was one of three attorney generals in the country who withheld support for the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act; that he still believes marriage is exclusively for heterosexual men and women; that his career is rife with more scandal than policy; or, worst of all, that he attended U.Va.
But somehow the man is still running for governor.
Admittedly, anyone who has managed to watch the sausages being made this campaign season knows that none of the candidates on the ballot are perfect. Terry McAuliffe has serious issues that voters should continue to question, and Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, has remained so far outside the focus of the press that it is hard to know what he would look like as a viable candidate. However, this discussion must begin with Ken Cuccinelli for the simple reason that his victory, in a telling off-year election, would bring more harm to the citizens and students of Virginia than the other candidates could muster if they tried.
Luckily, his election does not appear likely. Cuccinelli has been behind in the polls since the government shutdown caused a predictable public backlash against the Republican Party. According to a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post, he is down against McAuliffe in the category “issues of special concern to women” by 27 points. On other categories he hardly fares better: Cuccinelli is down 19 in “healthcare,” nine in “the economy” and eight in “energy and the environment.” The only spot he leads — by one point — is in “transportation,” yet even that is within the four-point margin of error.
If the poll results indicate anything, it is that the public is paying attention. No one with a government job ought to support a candidate affiliated with those who shut down the federal government, and no one with a mother or a vagina should support a man who would force rape victims to carry their pregnancies to term after denying them emergency contraception.
What hope is left can be found in the notion that Cuccinelli’s candidacy represents the tail-end of a movement within the Republican Party in the throes of its terminal decrescendo. This struggle is evident in Cuccinelli’s attempts to defend the indefensible by deferring dogged questioners to the Republican Party of Virginia, an organization still struggling to answer questions like: “Why did Romney lose the unmarried female vote in Virginia by 29 percent last year?”
A victory for Cuccinelli would prolong a reckoning that must eventually come: the acknowledgement that the national Republican Party has split and let itself be carried by a radical fringe further and further to the edge. The Republican Party faces a choice: appeal to emerging constituencies or die with aging supporters. A loss for Cuccinelli would serve as yet another impetus for this badly needed reform. A victory would assure fringe Republicans around the country that backwards social policy will not be punished at the ballot box.
Yet a vote for McAuliffe is not simply a vote against Cuccinelli and his rights-limiting ilk, even though that presumably would be enough. It is also a vote for responsible social, economic and environmental policy. Although McAuliffe’s background in business leaves much to be desired in the way of experience in government, it has provided the former Democratic National Committee chairman with relentless energy and a practical approach that will serve Virginia residents well.
For instance, McAuliffe not only attributes climate change to humans, but also has plans to curb its effects with offshore wind farms. He understands that Virginia public schools need more funding and has plans to increase education spending. Finally, as stated on his website, McAuliffe believes that “women should be able to make their own healthcare decisions without interference from Washington or Richmond.”
McAuliffe is no one’s ideal candidate. He has his own share of scandal and reached his current status largely because of his wealth, but he understands something Cuccinelli does not: The political climate, like the global climate, is changing. While Cuccinelli would take Virginia backward, McAuliffe looks forward.
That should be enough.
Email Tucker Higgins at [email protected]