Ken Cuccinelli's election of strategy of running on his long-standing opposition to homosexuality might have worked in 2009, when Cuccinelli won the attorney general race in Virginia. But the country's shift on gay politics didn't miss the state, putting Cuccinelli at risk of losing key Republican donors and the governor's race.
The timing of his embrace of anti-gay rhetoric couldn't be much worse. Cuccinelli is running in a close race with Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Several polls, including one from Quinnipiac University last week, show McAuliffe with a slight lead. But in another metric, fundraising, McAuliffe is far ahead — thanks, in part, to reticence from pas Republican donors to give to Cuccinelli. Bloomberg reports that Cuccinelli's adamant social conservative positions are a key factor in that antipathy. That attitude can be summarized in one quote.
“Mr. Cuccinelli’s very hard stance on some of the social issues is a concern for me,” said Virginia Beach developer Bruce L. Thompson, chief executive officer of Gold Key/PHR Hotels and Resorts, a financial backer of current Republican Governor Bob McDonnell who in May gave McAuliffe $25,000.
Or, perhaps two:
“I’m an employer in Virginia, and Cuccinelli terrifies me,” said Gary Shapiro, the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, which represents 2,000 technology companies.
“To attract the best employees, you don’t want to have the most backward policies in the country,” Shapiro said, referring to Cuccinelli’s stands on issues including abortion and gay rights.
Cuccinelli has raised 40 percent less than McAuliffe to date.
But that shortfall isn't inspiring him to rethink his campaign focus. As we reported last week, Cuccinelli has put a renewed emphasis on bolstering the state's anti-sodomy law. That position, which seeks to frame a law that bans consensual oral and anal sex between adults as a key tool for combatting child predators, was eviscerated by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell in a widely-shared segment last Wednesday.
Cuccinelli doubled-down on it in Virginia's gubernatorial debate on Saturday. The Hill reports Cuccinelli's response, when asked about his statements that homosexuality was unnatural: "My personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven't changed." Haven't changed, that is, since his 2009 declaration that "homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong." His opponent was quick to seize the opportunity.
McAuliffe said such comments would drive businesses away from Virginia and said he would support changing the Virginia Constitution to allow same-sex marriage. Cuccinelli retorted that the suggestion business would suffer was laughable and offensive.
The attorney general might want to check in with Mr. Shapiro, of the Consumer Electronics Association.
Cuccinelli's willingness to adhere to his principles on the issue in the face of fundraising setbacks is one thing. If he's willing to do so in the face of electoral challenges is another thing. At right is a graph suggesting how attitudes toward one gay issue have changed in Virginia over the last ten years. In 2006, voters in the state overwhelmingly voted to ban gay marriage. But that same Quinnipiac poll which showed McAuliffe in the lead suggested that the trend has now fully reversed, with a majority of Virginians supporting gay marriage.
More alarmingly for Cuccinelli is how that support correlates with support for his opponent. Women support McAuliffe by a margin of 48 percent-to-32 percent, a 16-point spread. Woman are also much more likely to support same-sex marriage, approving of it by a 55 percent-to-39 percent margin. The difference there? Sixteen percentage points.
It's safe to assume that the days in which candidates at a state or federal level could be explicit in opposition to equality for gays has passed. During last year's presidential primaries, Texas Gov. Rick Perry released an ad titled, "Strong," lamenting that gays could serve openly in the military but kids couldn't celebrate Christmas in school. Perry didn't get onto the ballot in Virginia, but he finished in second-to-last place among the seven candidates in the popular vote.
If Cuccinelli continues to see opposition from donors and voters due to his strong conservative views, he could similarly finish in second-to-last place in the gubernatorial race. Even in a three-person race, that's not good enough.
Photo: Cuccinelli points his finger during Saturday's debate. (AP)