Virginia Businesses Aren’t Buying Cuccinelli, McAuliffe

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Steve Helber / AP

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, left, greets Democratic challenger Terry McCauliffe, right, at the start of the Virginia Bar Association convention debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. Saturday, July 20, 2013.

Deep-pocketed business leaders from Virginia have shown little enthusiasm for their candidates for governor, with many saying Democrat Terry McAuliffe is too close to labor unions, and state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is too socially conservative. As a result, the high-pitched, low-interest campaign has been largely bankrolled by outsiders.

McAuliffe has a bit over $6 million cash on hand, while Cuccinelli has a little over $2.6 million. The Virginia Pilot notes that more than half of the contributions to Cuccinelli’s campaign, and nearly three-quarters of the contributions to McAuliffe’s, have come from donors outside the state. Bloomberg, citing the Virginia Public Access Project, reports that of McDonnell’s top 25 individual donors, only 10 so far have contributed to Cuccinelli.

“I have yet to meet a business leader that says they will support Cuccinelli, which is surprising because Republicans are usually supported by business leaders,” says Gary Shapiro of the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, who supported Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain “loudly and financially” in their respective runs for the presidency. “In my 35 years of Virginia, Attorney General Cuccinelli, if he became governor, would definitely be the most conservative. He makes [Governor Bob] McDonnell look left-wing,” Shapiro continued. “McAuliffe is definitely the lesser of two evils.”

“Most of the Virginia business leaders who I know are moderate Republicans,” says Bill Crutchfield, the founder of his eponymous consumer electronics retailing company based out of Charlottesville. “We believe that Ken Cuccinelli is far to the right of our philosophical comfort zone…Our state’s economic development could be adversely impacted if socially extreme candidates take over our government.” Crutchfield supported the Romney-Ryan ticket and spoke at one of their rallies last year.

Cuccinelli’s social views have made national news, with Jay Leno and Whoopi Goldberg ripping him this week for his stance on anti-sodomy laws. Cuccinelli has also been trying to overturn a federal court ruling that found the law, which outlawed oral and anal sex, unconstitutional. The Republican says the law wasn’t intended to prosecute consenting adults, but instead served as an effective tool used to prosecute child sex predators.

During Saturday’s debate, McAuliffe tried to make the case that social issues are economic issues, pointing to a March 2010 letter Cuccinelli sent to the state’s public colleges and universities asking them to remove references to sexual orientation from campus nondiscrimination policies. The letter reportedly jeopardized the state’s efforts to lure defense giant Northrup Grumman from Los Angeles to Fairfax. “There are consequences to mean-spirited, hateful comments,” concluded McAuliffe.

Cuccinelli responded, “There are millions, perhaps, of Virginians who share my sincerely held beliefs. Your notion that this somehow chases business out of Virginia would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive.” When pressed later, Cuccinelli said, “My personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven’t changed.”

One concern is that Cuccinelli will emphasize social issues too much. “He doesn’t have to change his social positions,” says Dan Clemente, CEO of Clemente Development Company, a major real estate developer based out of Vienna. “But he has to fairly represent everyone in the community.” Clemente, who held a fundraiser for Cuccinelli at his house with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, has given each candidate $1,000. Since he is the rector of George Mason University, Clemente says he “can’t take sides.”

What is more important to Clemente is governing experience. “Cuccinelli knows the players, he knows what you have to do, and who you have to deal with on both sides of the aisle, and he has done that successfully for years.” McAuliffe has no experience as an elected politician, and is most well known for his roles on the Hillary and Bill Clinton presidential campaigns, and for running the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005.

Others point to McAuliffe’s ties to organized labor as a concern. “The social issues aren’t that big of an issue for me,” says Tom Frantz, CEO of law firm Williams Mullen. Frantz opposes McAuliffe’s “pro-union” stance, which he feels is “more important than social issues.”

Frantz, like Shapiro, Crutchfield, and Clemente, could not express a unilateral position. When asked if his support is more about party identification or candidate, Frantz replied, “That’s a good question. I would say a blend of both. I’m going to vote Republican more often than not.” He conceded, “McAuliffe is a good candidate, a good guy.”

“There is some concern that Terry McAuliffe is too close to organized labor. He needs to dispel that perception,” said Crutchfield. “Since Terry McAuliffe has never held political office, it is hard to know if he is a moderate or liberal Democrat. However, if Terry McAuliffe can demonstrate that he is a moderate, I suspect that a large number of Virginia’s business leaders will support him.”

Shapiro agreed with Crutchfield. “Every time I think I’m going to support Terry McAuliffe, you know make that phone call and accept his invitation for dinner, I get one of those standard Democratic Party missives from him where he just aligns himself with everything that the Democrats do,” said Shapiro. “And that’s just very difficult for a business leader to accept.”

Cuccinelli has tried to paint McAuliffe as a Big Labor lover, calling the race a choice between “Union Terry or Frugal Ken” during the debate. McAuliffe confronted the distinction, pointing to a PolitiFact article showing he does not oppose Virginia’s right-to-work law. McAuliffe may have more trouble explaining away recent news reports tying his former auto-manufacturing firm GreenTech to an investigation of a scheme that exchanged visas for foreign investments. McAuliffe quietly stepped down as chairman of GreenTech on Dec. 1.

Both candidates still have time to address the concerns. On September 25, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and NBC4 sponsors a debate exclusively on the economy and other issues facing businesses.