Down in the polls, Republican Kenneth T. Cuccinelli on Thursday launched his sharpest attacks of Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign, accusing Terry McAuliffe of being a liar and of lacking substance while the Democrat said the attorney general’s economic plan would wreck the state’s economy.
The candidates’ third and final debate covered little new ground but was marked by increasingly sharp exchanges, with Mr. Cuccinelli saying that being in favor of jobs and education is all well and good, but that talking is different from laying out a plan.
“They’re not plans. I like those, too. I like education — I like puppies. 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,” he said to laughter from the crowd at the Squires Student Center at Virginia Tech. “He’s all puppy and no plan.”
Breaking from normal debate protocol, Mr. Cuccinelli at one point tried to put Mr. McAuliffe on the spot, yielding 30 seconds of his time and daring his opponent to name just one “government efficiency” he would use to pay for his priorities.
The question was a reference to Mr. McAuliffe’s oft-stated proposal to pay for new spending in part by saving money in areas that government could operate more efficiently. The Democrat has yet to identify an area or to put a price tag on his spending proposals, saying repeatedly that it would be irresponsible to undergo such a task before knowing how much money is available for him to spend.
“I’m not going to have a fictitious budget like Ken Cuccinelli,” he said.
Talking later about jobs, Mr. McAuliffe proposed two specific spending items — doubling the state’s research-and-development tax credit and expanding a tax credit for angel investors.
Mr. Cuccinelli said he can pay for his $1.4 billion tax plan by getting rid of about one-sixth of tax exemptions and credits in the state code and has proposed moving Medicaid funds not being used specifically on health care to boost mental health care spending.
“I’ve explained how I’m going to pay for my proposals,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
A large part of the Democrat’s economic plan depends on Virginia’s approving the expansion of Medicaid — part of President Obama’s health care overhaul that could deliver coverage to up to 400,000 additional low-income Virginians and which Mr. McAuliffe says would save the state $500 million.
Mr. Cuccinelli said Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the elderly, poor and disabled should not be viewed as an opportunity to boost the state’s economy.
“Folks, it’s welfare. It’s not a jobs program,” he said. “You can’t make magic money out of the federal government that he’d like to.”
The botched rollout of major parts of the Affordable Care Act also presented the Republican with an opportunity to hammer Mr. McAuliffe for the Democrat’s supporting the law, and he tried to take advantage of it throughout the debate.
“I’ve spent my life fighting for Virginians,” Mr. Cuccinelli said in his closing statement. “Terry’s fought for Terry and his partisan pals. Like supporting Obamacare. Terry not only supported Obamacare, he didn’t think it went far enough. Can you imagine? Now he actually wants to expand the Obamacare failure in Virginia.”
Still, Mr. McAuliffe repeatedly derided Mr. Cuccinelli’s tax-cut proposal, likening it to riding into the debate on a unicorn — a line he recycled from last month’s debate hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
Leading by nearly 10 percentage points in the latest RealClearPolitics average of poll results, Mr. McAuliffe could have been expected to simply parry the attacks from Mr. Cuccinelli. But the Democrat was noticeably aggressive from the get-go, confidently slamming the Republican for the jobs plan, as well as his record on women’s health and gay rights, among other issues.
Indeed, in addition to jobs and the economy — areas both candidates have focused on throughout the campaign — one salient issue on which they offered vastly different views was the subject of gun control.
Mr. McAuliffe said he supports background checks for all gun purchases, while Mr. Cuccinelli said the real way to prevent gun violence is to invest more in mental health, adding that increased background checks would not have prevented the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy in which a gunman killed 32 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Mr. Cuccinelli noted the “F” grade that Mr. McAuliffe received from the National Rifle Association — the only statewide candidate to receive such a rating.
“I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA,” an unusually expressive Mr. McAuliffe shot back during an answer on gun control. “As governor, I want to make sure our communities are safe.”
The candidates, who have been engaged in an uncommonly vitriolic contest, largely followed their messages and behavior from two earlier debates and at forums around the state, with feel-good bromides and attacks at one another’s positions and personal character.
Mr. Cuccinelli had previously adopted a general theme that even if voters don’t agree with him on every issue, they’ll always know where he stands, while Mr. McAuliffe again accused Mr. Cuccinelli of mean-spirited attacks on birth control and gay people and suggested that the Republican was ruled by a rigid ideology that would lead to gridlock in government.
Mr. Cuccinelli, who attempted to play up his successes in working across the aisle, shot back that Mr. McAuliffe had willfully misrepresented his record on social issues.
His campaign has persistently sought to gain traction by highlighting the failures of GreenTech Automotive Inc., a company that was supposed to serve as proof of Mr. McAuliffe’s business acumen but which has not lived up to projected production or employment levels and is the subject of multiple and overlapping federal investigations.
But polls have shown that the issue has not resonated with voters, and the car company came up only briefly during Thursday’s debate.
The one-hour forum in the Haymarket Theatre was co-sponsored by WDBJ-TV.
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