“I think that we did see some mud flicking, but not necessarily as much as we’re seeing in PAC-funded ads on our television screens,” Richmond Scholar Erik Lampmann said after attending the event he helped plan, Thursday’s Sharp Viewpoint Speaker Series featuring Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate and current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The format for Thursday’s discussions was McAuliffe and Cuccinelli each sitting down separately with university President Ed Ayers for public 30-minute interviews.
Ayers asked the candidates questions about healthcare, bipartisanship and the government shutdown, the environment, higher education, civil liberties and the job market. The questions asked by Ayers were written by the Richmond Scholars, a group of students on academic-based scholarships at the University of Richmond.
Cuccinelli went first in the discussions, highlighting his familiarity with bipartisanship through his work as Virginia state senator and attorney general. Cuccinelli said McAuliffe’s involvement with politics was “one of the most partisan track records of anyone to run for governor” in his lifetime.
Cuccinelli said that, for him, improving the job market was the focus of the election. His jobs plan, which he announced in May, would create 58,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, he said. His plan involves bringing the personal income tax rate down to 5 percent and the business tax rate down to 4 percent, balancing these tax cuts with caps on government spending, he said.
When McAuliffe joined Ayers on stage, he said that the government shutdown was the fault of the Tea Party and that they used the government shutdown as an “ideological bargaining chip.”
McAuliffe said that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who headlined a gala with Cuccinelli last week, was an architect of the shutdown. “I wouldn’t have even been in the same room with Ted Cruz with the damage that he has brought to Virginia families,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said that healthcare was one of the most important issues in this election. He said that he supported the expansion of Medicaid because it is “morally, socially the right thing to do.” McAuliffe views the Medicaid expansion as an opportunity to make healthcare more efficient and cost-effective.
Cuccinelli and McAuliffe stressed the importance of affordability and efficiency in higher education. Both candidates said that they wanted the state to continue supporting Virginia Tuition Assistance Grants.
Lampmann said the event had mobilized the campus community and the greater Richmond community to think about the values of the Commonwealth. He said he thought the discussions moved away from the superficial dialogue that has been apparent during the election.
Molly Kiniry, the president of University of Richmond College Republicans and the campus coordinator for Cuccinelli’s campaign, said the discussions allowed the audience to see clear contrasts between the two candidates. She said it was apparent that Cuccinelli is more familiar with Virginia’s government.
“It’s also plain to see that this has turned into a pretty negative race, unfortunately,” Kiniry said, “but it’s also a crucial race and that’s part of the reason that it has gotten so negative.”
Katy Geisreiter, the campus team leader for McAuliffe’s campaign said the discussion was a great way for Richmond students to become more informed about the coming election.
“We can flag people down in the Commons all day, but ultimately it’s important for people to hear from the candidates themselves,” Geisreiter said.
She said she thought that the candidates could have focused more on discussing their own policies rather than what they didn’t like about their opponent, but that Cuccinelli came across as more negative than McAuliffe.
At a press conference after the event, Cuccinelli mentioned a recent report that McAuliffe invested with a Rhode Island estate planner charged with defrauding terminally ill people.
“My opponent invested in people dying,” Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe told reporters that he was not aware of the fraud at the time that he invested. “I was a passive investor in a life-insurance annuity pool and that’s all I knew,” he said.
Several local state legislators attended the event, including Del. Jimmie Massie (R-Henrico), Sen. Henry Marsh (D-Petersburg), Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) and Sen. Thomas Garrett (R-Goochland).
Contact staff writer Brennan Long at firstname.lastname@example.org