Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli: Two Colorful Candidates, If Not Exactly Likeable

While Congress is currently in recess, political junkies may think they’ll have a hard time getting their fix of the latest news of the day.

They need not fear: Virginia has got them covered. The candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial race are a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. But while they may be interesting and entertaining, they are also hard to really like.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee, is the living embodiment of machine politics. Prone to hyperbole and having a good time, he’s a quintessential pol. A self-described hustler, he started his first business, paving driveways, at the age of 14. By his early 20s he was already raising money for Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign, masking his youth by wearing fake glasses. McAuliffe also used his networking skills to aid his business ventures, some of which would attract the watchful eye of the feds.

By the early 90s, McAuliffe had become the money man of the Democratic Party, raising absurd sums of money for both of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns. In fact, McAuliffe was so busy schmoozing donors, he didn’t have time for much else, including his wife Dorothy or his children. According to his memoir, he almost missed the birth of his daughter Sarah to attend a party for a journalist at the Washington Post. He made Dorothy and newborn son Peter wait in the car while he quickly ducked in to a fundraiser: “We got to the dinner and by then Dorothy was in tears, and I left her with Justin and went inside.” But hey, he raised “a million bucks for the Democratic Party.” And in 1993, while his son Jack was being born, he spent his time arguing with one of the doctors about the merits of Bill Clinton’s plan for health care reform. McAuliffe recounts all this in his memoir in a casual and jocular tone, as if he’s a happy warrior fighting the good fight and having a good time, almost as if he doesn’t realize how morally grey his actions appear to everyone else.

Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee, is not as colorful as his opponent. In fact, pious may be a better word. Where McAuliffe is happy-go-lucky and seems to be only concerned with the game of politics, Cuccinelli is deadly serious and principled, which is what everyone says they want in a politician. He’s also probably better to his own family than McAuliffe, although that’s a very low bar.

But Cuccinelli’s family values platform and conservative ideology are likely to turn moderates off. His anti-gay rhetoric and support for Virginia's anti-sodomy law, which is currently undergoing legal challenge, depict a man out of step with the tide of public opinion. He may also have recently come to regret his statements of support for Iowa Congressman Steve King, whose recent comments implying that many of  the children of illegal immigrants are drug mules with "calves the size of cantaloupes" have gotten him into hot water. Then again, maybe not. He has continued to stand by his anti-gay comments of the past, despite fresh controversy about them. Cucinelli has also written that Obama’s health care law “did to the American people what the tyrant we rebelled against in 1775 couldn’t even do when we were merely subjects.” This right-wing ideology may be principled to some, but for many voters it comes across as fanaticism.

Because of the deep flaws of both candidates, the race is close, with McAuliffe holding a slight lead in the polls. It seems that whoever wins is going to be a polarizing and unlikeable governor. Whatever happens, it seems Virginia voters will have an entertaining election, if nothing else.