The Wire

MEMO: Cuccinelli’s “All In” Debate Strategy Backfires

To: Interested Parties
From: Chris Harris, American Bridge Communications Director
Date: October 24, 2013
Re: Cuccinelli’s “All In” Debate Strategy Backfires

Earlier this year, Ken Cuccinelli issued forth a challenge: wherever two or more Virginians gathered, there he would debate Terry McAuliffe. It was exactly the strategy one would expect from a campaign bold enough to release fake polls and featuring a day-to-day messaging strategy with the focus of that dog from Up.

From the beginning of the campaign, Cuccinelli’s strategy hinged on definitive debate victories. Debates are where they would win the hearts and minds of Virginians. They went “all in,” so to speak.

Cuccinelli’s campaign has reassured supporters and the press that debates would be where he would turn it all around. In their minds, the debates would serve as the Republican’s big moment, where millions of Virginians would instantly fawn over the once-in-a-lifetime leader that is Ken Cuccinelli.

Unfortunately, the campaign forgot one little detail: the more voters learn about Cuccinelli, the less they like him.

With even the conservative Rasmussen poll showing Ken Cuccinelli trailing Terry McAuliffe by 17 points, not even a new RRR poll can swing the momentum in Cuccinelli’s favor at this point. His radicalism rejected by Virginians, the Cuccinelli campaign has incoherently vacillated between reviving his strategy of hiding his extreme social agenda and embracing every Santorum, Huckabee, and Duggar that wanders through his state.

We don’t know which Ken Cuccinelli will show up at tonight’s debate. It could be the false moderate who pretends he didn’t try to kill the bipartisan transportation compromise. Or it could be the extremist who wants “more Ted Cruzes” in the United States Senate. Either way, just like his previous debate performances, it won’t be enough to rescue his floundering campaign.

BACKGROUND:

The Cuccinelli Campaign Created Expectations that the Debates Would Turn the Race Around

Cuccinelli Strategist Chris LaCivita Said Before The Debate, “We Have A Belief That The More People That See Ken Cuccinelli And Hear From Him Directly, The Greater The Likelihood He’ll Be The Next Governor. The McAuliffe Campaign Has The Exact Opposite View Of Their Candidate.” According to Politico, “If Republicans are upbeat about one thing in the race right now, it’s that their candidate has a much longer record of succeeding in high-stress environments than the Democrat does. ‘We have a belief that the more people that see Ken Cuccinelli and hear from him directly, the greater the likelihood he’ll be the next governor. The McAuliffe campaign has the exact opposite view of their candidate,’ said Cuccinelli senior strategist Chris LaCivita. ‘At times, they almost seem embarrassed.’” [Politico, 7/19/13]

Cuccinelli Strategist Chris LaCivita Said The Debate “Represents An Important Moment In The Campaign – When The Contrast Between The Candidates Became Abundantly Clear.” According to a Cuccinelli campaign press release, Cuccinelli strategiest Chris LaCivita said, “Ken Cuccinelli was the decisive winner of tonight’s debate because he was the only candidate on the stage able to articulate a serious, credible plan to grow Virginia’s economy, ease burdens for families and create 58,000 new jobs. […]Tonight’s debate represents an important moment in the campaign – when the contrast between the candidates became abundantly clear and Ken Cuccinelli stepped forward as the right person to lead the Commonwealth.” [Ken Cuccinelli For Governor Press Release, 9/25/13]

Washington Examiner: Cuccinelli “Has Relished The Opportunity To Go Toe-To-Toe With McAuliffe.” According to the Washington Examiner, “The candidates will have a chance to question each other. Cuccinelli, a more seasoned politician and a notably skilled debater, has relished the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with McAuliffe, challenging his opponent to 15 debates (though Cuccinelli has also turned down a traditional debate hosted by AARP and the League of Women Voters). National Democrats tempered the expectations for McAuliffe this week with a memo noting Cuccinelli’s experience in these forums.” [Washington Examiner, 7/20/13]

The Cuccinelli Campaign Dismissed Poll Numbers Prior To The Debate, Saying, “Our Campaign Feels Very Good About Our Position” And Noting The Number Of Undecided Voters. According to a Cuccinelli campaign press release, communications director Richard T. Cullen said, “Coming off a week in which Ken Cuccinelli secured one of the most important business endorsements in Virginia while Terry McAuliffe was exposed for having misled Virginians about critical policy details and his continued involvement with GreenTech Automotive, our campaign feels very good about our position heading into Wednesday’s pivotal Fairfax Chamber of Commerce Debate.” [Ken Cuccinelli For Governor Press Release, 9/23/13]

Cuccinelli Press Release: “We […] Are Confident The Contrast Between The Candidates’ Seriousness And Ability To Articulate A Positive Vision For Virginia’s Future Will Be Abundantly Clear.” According to a Cuccinelli campaign press release, communications director Richard T. Cullen said, “We look forward to this evening’s debate and are confident the contrast between the candidates’ seriousness and ability to articulate a positive vision for Virginia’s future will be abundantly clear.” [Ken Cuccinelli For Governor Press Release, 9/25/13]

Cuccinelli has Attempted to Distance Himself from his Record During Debates

Cuccinelli Denied That He Tried To Ban Several Forms Of Contraception In The July Debate. According to the Washington Post:

MODERATOR JUDY WOODRUFF: “And on contraception, would you again seek to make several forms, common forms, of contraception illegal, as you did several years ago?”

CUCCINELLI: “Well, I certainly didn’t do that several years ago. My focus in this race is on growing jobs for the middle class, and supporting them and not the well-connected. There are people, like me, who sincerely hold beliefs about protecting life, and I certainly bring those with me into the governor’s race.” [Washington Post, 7/23/13]

  • The Washington Post Gave Cuccinelli’s Statement “Three Pinocchios,” Saying A Contraception Ban “Likely Would Have Been The Practical Effect Of The Bill He Co-Sponsored.” According to the Washington Post, “In any case, the 2007 proposal Cuccinelli co-sponsored appears to be even more conservative than the 2012 one, as it defines life as beginning at “fertilization.” There are various ways to interpret the impact on birth control, but some methods might be affected because there are birth control methods that prevent a fertilized egg from implantation in the wall of the uterus. We were told we would receive a response from the Cuccinelli campaign, but never got one. Cuccinelli’s answer was too cute by half, perhaps an effort to soften some of his conservatism. While he might not have specifically sought to ban contraception, that likely would have been the practical effect of the bill he co-sponsored.” [Washington Post, 7/23/13]

Cuccinelli Claimed He Only Backed Fetal Personhood Bills That Contained Language Requiring The State To Comply With Supreme Court Decisions; PolitiFact Rated His Claim “False.” According to PoliticFact, “Cuccinelli said all the bills he’s supported defining life as beginning at conception have contained language saying measures are intended to comply with Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights. Cuccinelli has backed two bills during his career; one had the qualifying clause he described and the other — which Cuccinelli cosponsored — did not. We rate his statement False.” [PolitiFact, 8/10/13]