On Politics

Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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Final governor debate breaks little new ground

The final debate between Virginia’s two major-party gubernatorial candidates Thursday night broke little new ground, with both men reiterating their central talking points and lines of attack on each other.

Republican Ken Cuccinelli, trailing McAuliffe by a few points in all recent polls, said he is the candidate with government experience and detailed plans for job growth, mental health investment and government spending restraint.

He also cast the race as a referendum on the federal Affordable Care Act, which he said was killing jobs and opportunities, and suggested a vote for him would send a message to Washington.

“Virginia, if you want to reject Obamacare… you’ve got your chance on Nov. 5,” Cuccinelli said in his closing statement.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe said he would take a bipartisan, cooperative approach to governing and likened himself to popular former governor, now senator, Mark Warner, also a businessman with no government experience when he was elected in 2001.

“I want to govern in that style to move Virginia forward,” McAuliffe said in his closing.

The debate was sponsored by WDBJ7, a Roanoke TV station, and held at Virginia Tech. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis was not allowed to participate in the debate — he narrowly missed the polling cut-off set by WDBJ7 and the campaigns.

The Free Lance-Star viewed the debate online.

As has been the pattern in their past two debates, both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli took every opportunity to criticize the other. Cuccinelli frequently accused McAuliffe of being light on details, saying at one point that McAuliffe was presenting “more platitudes, no plans.”

“I like puppies,” Cuccinelli said. “But I don’t bring a puppy home if I don’t have a plan for how I’m going to deal with that puppy … and he’s all puppy, no plan.”

McAuliffe hit Cuccinelli for his conservative positions on social issues, his contributions from coal companies, and his lawsuit regarding a University of Virginia climate change professor.

“We’re about bringing folks together,” McAuliffe said. “We have got to stop this attack on women, we’ve got to stop this attack on gay Virginians, we can’t be putting walls up around Virginians.”

They took several questions on the cost of their various proposals. Both campaigns have assigned high price tags to their opponents’ ideas but have never named an outright cost to their own plans.

McAuliffe has said that his proposals could be funded if Virginia expands Medicaid eligibility to cover up to 400,000 more Virginians, which he says would create jobs and bring an influx of federal money that could free up some state money.

Cuccinelli opposes the Medicaid expansion.

“Folks it’s welfare, it’s not a jobs program,” he said.

Cuccinelli has said he’ll cut an unnamed list of tax loopholes and credits — one in six of them, he said Thursday night — and that doing so would create jobs and save the state money to pay for some of his other proposals.

With the debate being held at Virginia Tech, site of the 2007 mass shooting, the candidates got several questions on gun issues.

McAuliffe referenced the Tech shootings several times in his answers. He said he supports universal background checks and opposes arming teachers and professors.

“I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA,” said McAuliffe, who got an F from the National Rifle Association. “As governor I want to make sure our communities are safe.”

Cuccinelli said the way to reduce gun violence is to increase money and focus on mental health issues. He has proposed shifting Medicaid dollars from some programs not directly related to health care into mental health areas, and pointed out that he co-chaired a task force on school safety after the Connecticut school shooting.

Asked how they’d help improve the economies in Southwest and Southside Virginia, which have been hit for years by job losses, Cuccinelli said he would fight against federal regulations like those from the Environmental Protection Agency that put restrictions on coal plants.

McAuliffe said he’d advocate for road projects, like the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia, to open up economic development, and said Medicaid expansion would also lead to investment in those regions.

Both were asked about their plans for investment in K-12 education.

Cuccinelli, who has advocated for more school choice, including private schools, said parents should have more control and be able to move their children out of failing schools, whether they move to another public school or a private one.

McAuliffe said he opposes taking any money out of public schools, and accused Cuccinelli of proposing tax cuts that would lessen the pot of state dollars for education.

Asked about Sarvis’ positions and impact on the campaign, Cuccinelli said he agreed with the debate rules and argued that he is the “strongest pro-liberty candidate.”

McAuliffe said he and Sarvis agree on a number of issues.

The election is in less than two weeks, Nov. 5.