By Jason Spencer
At an energy forum Thursday morning in Arlington, Democrat Terry McAuliffe talked about the importance of science and technology and Republican Ken Cuccinelli talked about the need to elect someone voters could trust.
Energy came up, too.
The 300-seat auditorium at George Mason University's Arlington campus was packed for the forum, hosted by the Consumer Energy Alliance, and included a full complement of state and national media.
The two Virginia gubernatorial candidates did not share the stage. They came out separately, gave a 20-minute speech and took questions from a moderator for about 10 minutes. A half-hour panel discussion preceded each candidate.
McAuliffe spoke first. He talked about Cuccinelli's so-called war on women, saying businesses wouldn't come to a state where 50 percent of its potential workforce was under attack by the state government. Unsurprisingly, he often painted the sitting attorney general as an extreme ideologue who would spend the next four years promoting divisive social issues.
At one point, McAuliffe held up a copy of the Washington Postthat featured a story about Cuccinelli's ties to fathers' rights advocates who, he said, oppose adequate child support and domestic violence protections.
"He and I disagree about many things, and on some of his claims, I can understand his position, even if I disagree with it," McAuliffe said. "The positions the Washington Post reported today on child support, on the Violence Against Women Act, and on family law – it's just beyond my comprehension."
The story highlights the unusual move by Cuccinelli to try a custody case in court after taking office as Virginia's attorney general. Cuccinelli later told reporters that he had child witnesses that he'd developed a relationship with who he didn't feel comfortable turning over to another attorney.
On stage, McAuliffe said he had a simple approach to energy: "Virginia needs to be a leader in cutting-edge technology." On coal, he briefly touched on carbon-capture technology work being done at Virginia Tech — a far cry from Terry McAuliffe 1.0, who never wanted to see another coal plant built. On offshore drilling in Virginia, he said safety measures and advances in technology made him "more comfortable" with the subject.
The focus on technology was used to take a jab at Cuccinelli, who has questioned climate change science, sued the Environmental Protection Agency and spent two years investigating a renowned climate change scientist.
"Taking energy technology to the next level requires a governor who values scientific research," McAuliffe said.
Cuccinelli perhaps talked more about specific aspects of his energy policy, but it was all laced with the message that voters simply could not trust Terry McAuliffe.
He said McAuliffe was trying to reinvent himself as a centrist and that his support for the coal industry and offshore drilling amounted to nothing more than claims.
"We can protect the environment and we can grow the economy. These are not exclusive goals," he said. "Terry wants you to believe he's suddenly for offshore drilling. How can you believe that? He's never been for offshore drilling before. And when push comes to shove, do you think he'll go to the mat for offshore drilling? Terry is 'of Washington.' He isn't going to fight Washington."
Cuccinelli also said it was easy to forget in Northern Virginia that the coal industry is vital to one of the poorest regions of this state.
"The war on coal is a war on our poor. That's who suffers in Virginia. Drive with me down through southwest Virginia, and you'll see what I mean. You can see it," he said.
Shutting down the coal industry in this state "would be like Terry, in Northern Virginia, outlawing federal contractors… That gives you a picture of the scope of what the policies he's supported are doing to southwest Virginians."
Cuccinelli also attacked McAuliffe over the rocky history of the company he once headed, GreenTech — which didn't produce as many jobs as promised and is currently the subject of two federal investigations, one of which involves a potential scheme to trade visas for investments by the Chinese.
"Hypothetical jobs don't pay real bills," Cuccinelli said. "He's all talk. Just ask some of those unemployed GreenTech workers."
When reporters asked McAuliffe about Greentech, he said casually that entrepreneurs have to take risks, and that he hopes more entrepreneurs will do so in order to create 21st-century jobs.
Neither candidate strayed far from anything they've said before.
When a moderator asked McAuliffe about how he would keep gas prices low, he talked about the need to reduce gridlock. When a reporter asked Cuccinelli about his view on climate change, he said his view was that Virginia needs to push back against over-regulation by the federal government.