Why Ken Cuccinelli Lost The Election

Ken Cuccinelli II (R)
Ken Cuccinelli II (R)

By defeating Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli II in the gubernatorial election Tuesday, Virginia voters rejected one of the most openly-right wing politicians in the country. While he at times attempted to downplay his record, Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe (D) repeatedly hammered the point that Cuccinelli was focused on his own agenda of climate change denial, anti-LGBT discrimination, restrictions on women’s reproductive health, steadfast opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and blocking any gun violence reduction efforts.

Polling in the final days showed that most voters were not just voting for McAuliffe but against Cuccinelli. A libertarian candidate who also hammered Cuccinelli’s social issue positions appeared to win about six or seven percent as well.

While perhaps recognizing that his far-right views were alienating Democrats, independents, and Republicans, Cuccinelli tried to de-emphasize social issues in this campaign — suggesting he would not pursue an agenda of restricting contraception or abortion rights as governor, scrubbing his positions on immigration from his website, and calling any mentions of his own anti-LGBT comments unfounded “personal attacks.” But he once styled himself a “beachhead of conservatism” and repeatedly emphasized to voters, “you’ll always know where I stand.”

As voters discovered where he stood, he went from being the early front-runner to trailing in every poll in the weeks leading up to Election Day. The record they evaluated was:

He fought against all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

Cuccinelli once boasted that his first campaign won by mobilizing churches on abortion and taxes — while misleading the press into think he was concerned about transportation. His 2002 campaign website laid out Cuccinelli’s abortion views clearly: “Ken believes that human life begins at conception, and that human beings should be respected and protected from conception to natural death,” it said. “Ken would seek to require sonograms to be part of a 24-hour waiting period with an informed consent requirement. Ken opposes abortions that are not for the purpose of saving the mother’s life.” He sought defund Planned Parenthood and embryonic stem cell research.


He pushed for a ban on third trimester abortions — making no exception for serious health risks on the woman — and bullied the state Board of Health to implement “safety” regulations for abortion providers designed to force clinics to close. He has also highlighted his opposition to RU-486 and his support for a “conscience” law protecting the “right of professionals to refuse to perform an action that is inconsistent with their moral convictions” — such as providing emergency contraception — “without losing their job.” Cuccinelli frequently attacks Planned Parenthood and has suggested that the fact that abortion clinics in Virginia are in urban areas with large African American populations is an example of white racism. His “ultimate goal,” he has said, is to “make abortion disappear in America.” Instead, Cuccinelli helped fund “crisis” pregnancy centers that lie to women to manipulate their reproductive health choices.

He called a safe sex fair “soft porn” and sought to censor it.

In 2005, Cucinnelli used his position as a state Senator to try to censor a university sexual education event he felt was “pushing a pro-sex agenda and an anything goes agenda.” Cuccinelli, however, was outraged that his alma mater George Mason — a public state university — would host an event he believed “really just designed to push sex and sexual libertine behavior as far, fast and furiously as possibly.” Upset that information about sexuality — other than abstinence only — would be presented to adult college students, he said it was symptomatic of the “moral depravity that has crept across this commonwealth and this country.” The university’s administration emphatically rejected Cuccinelli’s suggestions that they cancel the event and it was repeated in future years.

His war on sodomy may have helped set free sexual predators.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state sodomy bans as unconstitutional in 2003, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly proposed updating the state’s law that made oral and anal sex a felony (even between consenting married adults) to comply with the ruling by eliminating provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli, then a state senator, opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor. In 2009, he told a newspaper that he supported keeping restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result, the law was never updated and the courts struck down the entire law earlier this year — throwing into question the convictions of numerous sexual predators. Republican Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, a former colleague of Cuccinelli’s in the Senate, told ThinkProgress that ““The inaction of the General Assembly” meant at least one statutory rapist will go free.

He said Catholic Church creates a “culture of dependency on government, not God.”

In a stunning 2012 speech at a Christian Life Summit, Cuccinelli took aim at the Catholic Church for its advocacy on behalf of the poor, immigrants, and the uninsured. Because the Church’s leadership has advocated for the government to provide a social safety net, a role he believes is the responsibility of the Catholic Church itself, Cuccinelli said, “they have made themselves out to be nothing but the largest special interest group in America.” A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told ThinkProgress that in 2010, Catholic Charities USA provided food services to more than 7 million people, housing services to almost 500,000, and emergency services including assistance with clothing and prescription drug purchases to nearly 2 million. Rev. Gerry Creedon, pastor at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Dale City, Virginia, added that the Church can’t do it all alone. “Not everything can be done with charity,” he explained, “The tithes of our church can’t deal with the housing crisis [or hunger]. Those are issues that go beyond private donations.” In a June 2011 speech to the Virginia Christian Association, he mocked a Catholic diocese newspaper for including in its voter guides both issues like poverty assistance and health care access for the uninsured, in addition to the issues he deems more important, such as abortion.

He turned his climate change denial into an illegal witch hunt.

Cuccinelli’s denial of climate science was extreme enough — frequently asking his audiences to exhale carbon dioxide together in unison just to “annoy the EPA.” But as Virginia Attorney General, he took it a step further, launching an illegal fishing expedition against former University of Virginia climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann. State courts rejected as unfounded his theory that Mann committed fraud in seeking government funding for climate change research.

His office improperly aided fossil fuel companies.

Much of Cuccinelli’s fundraising came from dirty energy companies. But a six-figure donation from Pennsylvania-based CONSOL Energy came under heavy scrutiny after his office was accused of improperly aiding Consol and others in a class-action lawsuit brought by southwest Virginians over coalbed methane extraction rights. The state judge in the case called the behavior of Cuccinelli’s senior assistant attorney general shocking and referred the matter to the Virginia’s inspector general — who found she had acted “inappropriately.”

He took thousands in gifts from the a conroversial tobacco executive.

Though Cuccinelli initially failed to disclose them, he received more than $18,000 in gifts from controversial Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Williams provided the attorney general with free lodging at his homes, $6,711 worth of supplements, transportation to New York City and Kentucky, and an elaborate $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner. Though as of 2012, Star Scientific has reported annual losses for a decade, just one Virginia elected official or candidate invested upwards of $10,000 in the company: Cuccinelli. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Star Scientific is the only significant holding he has reported since his first filing in 2003. Cuccinelli, whose position makes him the Commonwealth of Virginia’s lawyer, did not follow state disclosure law and disclose this investment in a timely manner. After the controversy became public, he sold off the stock and grudgingly donated the estimated value of the gifts he received to charity.

He questioned President Obama’s legitimacy as president.

Cuccinelli dabbled in birtherism in 2010, telling a questioner that the idea that President Obama was secretly born in Kenya “doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility.” After the 2012 election, Cuccinelli embraced a conspiracy theory proposed by right-wing radio host that President Obama had only be re-elected because of voter fraud. he completely agreed assertion that investigations were needed to determine why President Obama lost “every one” of the states with photo identification requirements for voting, yet won re-election. Of course, Obama won four states with photo identification requirements for voters and studies have shown Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.

He fought against LGBT equality at every possible opportunity.

Cuccinelli’s anti-LGBT rhetoric and record may be unmatched by any other Virginia gubernatorial candidate in history. He actively pushed for state and federal constitutional amendments to prevent any legal recogntition of what he terms “what they’d like to refer to as ‘homosexual families,’” authoring a resolution calling for a federal amendment to invalidate any same-sex marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or “other relationship analogous to marriage.”


He has opined that “giving public sanction to homosexual marriage ends up redefining marriage and it’s certain to harm children.” He even opposed a state bill that allowed private companies to voluntarily provide health insurance benefits to employees’ domestic partners, warning it might “encourage this type of behavior.” His advisory opinion that Virginia’s public colleges and universities should rescind their non-discrimination policies was called “reprehensible” by a former Republican state legislator. Asked in this campaign about his previous claim that the “homosexual agenda… brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul,” Cuccinelli conceded that his views about “the personal challenge of homosexuality have not changed.”

He bragged about his “A” rating from the NRA at the site of a mass shooting.

Cuccinelli’s strong opposition to gun violence prevention efforts extends to even modest steps like universal background checks. Asked about the subject at an October debate a Virginia Tech, where a mass shooting in 2007 killed 32 people, Cuccinelli made clear that he opposed expanded background checks and boasted his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. In a 2011 speech to a gun rights group, he called the notion of gun bans on campus “crazy.”

He embraced radical “tenther” theories about the U.S. constitution.

Cuccinelli espoused a radical interpretation of the constitution that the federal government should cede much more power to the states under the 10th Amendment. His 2013 book No Apologies called Medicare “despicable,” dismissed Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps as deliberate attacks on Americans’ freedom, and argued that all welfare and anti-trust laws are unconstitutional.

At a 2010 Tenth Amendment rally in Richmond, he told supporters of the view that “what we can do, where we live, is advocate again to bring back to life the 10th amendment, to bring back to life those boundaries in our constitutional system that were supposed to be the critical checks in the checks and balances system. Without them, we lose — gradually, we lose our liberty.” In one of his briefs challenging health reform, Cuccinelli suggested that Congress is allowed to regulate “commerce on one hand” but not “manufacturing or agriculture.” This is exactly the same discredited vision of the Constitution the Supreme Court implemented in the late 19th and early 20th century, and it would strike down child labor laws, the minimum wage, the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters, and countless other cherished laws.


Virginia has historically been a conservative-leaning swing state, backing every Republican presidential nominee from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush and electing a Republican governor by a 59 to 41 landslide in 2009. But polling showed Cuccinelli out of step with their views on climate change, background checks, marriage equality, and abortion rights. With Tuesday’s results, Virginians sent a message that that was not where they stand somewhere different from where Cuccinelli is.