McAuliffe and Cuccinelli at each other’s throats, never on the same stage, during forum

The two major party candidates for Virginia governor targeted one another for vicious attacks Friday during a forum in Manassas, though at no point were they on the stage together — or even in the same room at the same time.

In between the barbs tossed by Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe during the forum at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, there was some discussion of issues important to the region’s business leaders, most notably on transportation, tax policy and health care.

But the wicked jabs — Cuccinelli describing McAuliffe as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in an old Teamster’s investigation, or McAuliffe’s persistent focus on Cuccinelli’s “rigid ideology” — took center stage, and a good deal of both candidates’ time at the podium. The campaign has turned decidedly nasty.

Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, defined himself as a “frugal,” free market, small-business-friendly conservative with a plan to cut taxes, promote energy exploration (including a continued support for coal) and challenge the federal health care law. He described McAuliffe as a union-supporting, ethically-challenged, legislative novice who is “probably associated with more job destruction over the years than job creation.”

“He’s the person who invented the scheme to rent out the Lincoln Bedroom and proudly bragged about selling seats on Air Force One for political donations,” Cuccinelli said of McAuliffe’s past as a Clinton-era Democratic fundraiser and strategist.

This is a race, he said later, of “Union Terry and Frugal Ken.”

McAuliffe played up Cuccinelli’s reputation as an ideological, off-the-charts right wing conservative, while touting his platform to build a “modern, efficient transportation system,” expand Medicaid, build a Virginia health care exchange, grow the state as a cybersecurity and nano-technology hub and commercialize higher education research.

“There is a choice between rigid ideology and mainstream compromise,” McAuliffe said.

On to the issues:

McAuliffe refused to take a position on the proposed Bi-County Parkway linking Interstate 95 in Prince William County with Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County. That decision will be made, McAuliffe said, based on answers he does not have right now: Whether it eases congestion, promotes economic development and has local support.

Moderator Derek McGinty of WUSA9 pressed McAuliffe on the parkway, a line of questioning McAuliffe referred to as “cute.”

“I do not make decisions, nor will I make decisions, until I have all the facts in front of me,” McAuliffe said.

Cuccinelli backed a north-south connection between Prince William and Loudoun, though perhaps not along the alignment currently proposed. And he was patently opposed to the closure of any existing roads in order to make the Bi-County Parkway possible.

“I believe that a significant connector there must take place,” Cuccinelli said. “I am appalled at the notion of closing roads to do this.”

On health care, McAuliffe said he would move as governor to expand Medicaid in Virginia, to ensure the state’s taxes are returned in the form of health care for low-income residents and some 33,000 jobs.

“This is our money,” he said. “As governor I want our money coming back to help our citizens.”

Cuccinelli does not support creating a state health exchange under Obamacare, a law he termed a “rolling jalopy.” He would not rule out Medicaid expansion (“I’m not saying never”) but he did call for massive reforms of the state system before jumping full bore into the federal program.

“Once we’re in, we’re stuck,” he said.

As for taxes, Cuccinelli called for a reduction of the state’s personal income tax to 5 percent, and the business income tax to 4 percent. Those cuts, he said, will be funded by holding the line on spending and eliminating one-sixth of the state’s incentives, exemptions and loopholes.

What loopholes? Like he did with McAuliffe on the Bi-County Parkway, McGinty tried to get an answer out of Cuccinelli, but the attorney general said he didn’t know yet.

The forum was hosted by the Loudoun, Reston, Prince William and Fredericksburg chambers of commerce.

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