How Ken Cuccinelli can win in Virginia

Virginia???s gubernatorial election isn???t garnering national interest simply because it???s the only major, competitive election in the country this year. The race between Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is a feisty one with critical implications for 2016. David Bossie, president of Citizens United, called it a ???prelude to Hillary Clinton???s 2016 campaign.??? Cook Political Report said, ???Much will be read into the results as the 2014 cycle moves into high gear.???

Both candidates are seeking to capitalize on their strong points during this heated campaign, since much of the Old Dominion electorate remains undecided. McAuliffe is recognized as a well-known ally of and fundraiser for the Clintons and former Democratic National Committee chairman, and Cuccinelli as a committed conservative whose service as Attorney General of Virginia and whose early rejection of Obamacare earned him positive recognition.

Both contenders have been tarnished, though, by the intensely negative nature of both campaigns. Cuccinelli, for his part, has been painted as an extreme conservative and has been damaged by his connection to Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and his alleged ethics violations. McAuliffe is taking heat for his ties to GreenTech, the electric car firm he founded which is under investigation for involvement in a questionable immigrant visa scheme for foreign investors.

The polls are tight, however, and this election will almost certainly come down to the wire. Here are suggestions for how Cuccinelli could win and boost the GOP into serious contention by setting the stage for 2014 and beyond:

Stop talking about the sodomy law: Focus on the economy. Cuccinelli???s staunch conservatism extends into the social issues, and his quest to reinstate Virginia???s Crimes Against Nature Law has resulted in his being portrayed as a fire-breathing, anti-gay puritan. The gubernatorial trail is neither the time nor the place to talk about such polarizing subjects. (He???s also been called an ???anti-science zealot??? for his position on climate change.) There???s no need to be a coward about these issues, but don???t bring them up if they don???t need to be addressed. Cuccinelli should take the sodomy law off his immediate agenda and concentrate on selling his plan for jobs: reducing the individual income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5 percent; reducing the business income tax from 6 percent to 4 percent; establishing a Small Business Tax Relief Commission, and ensuring state government growth does not exceed inflation plus population growth.

Fight fire with fire: Cuccinelli has little choice on this one, and the attacks from both camps have come with great force and frequency. Negative campaigns are nasty and unpleasant for everyone, but there???s simply no room to play nice in a race as contentious as this one- the nice guy literally will finish last.

As Jennifer Rubin points out in her column for the Washington Post, McAuliffe???s biggest strength is his role as a businessman; this is also his area of greatest weakness as the scandals which swirl around his business ventures threaten to overwhelm whatever worthwhile experience he???s gained from them.

Cuccinelli is already on board with criticizing his opponent, as are other members of the GOP. They need to keep it up.

McAuliffe is accused of creating jobs in China rather than Virginia in what is the first attack ad of the campaign, launched last week by the Republican Governors Association. Cuccinelli???s goal has been to connect with the Middle Class by painting himself as one of them and in contrast with McAuliffe, portrayed as an elite 1-percenter. McAuliffe is to Cuccinelli what Romney was to Obama, and we all saw how that worked out. According to Politico:

Cuccinelli is also pouncing on McAuliffe???s refusal to release his full tax returns ??? as the former Democratic National Committee chief called on Romney last year to do. While Cuccinelli released eight years of full returns, McAuliffe has provided only the summary pages of his federal 1040 filing from a three-year period. The Democrat has said he has already disclosed more than is required by law.

Make a scene: McAuliffe???s campaign stops have been noted for their negligible supporter-turnout. McAuliffe isn???t connecting with his constituents, and this gives Cuccinelli the chance to take advantage of his reputation as a freakish ideologue and host some revival-style meetings. He should remind people again and again about his immediate leadership to overturn the ever-so-unpopular Obamacare.

Debate, debate, debate: A win-win situation. Cuccinelli did well in the pair???s first debate, and if McAuliffe continues to avoid the debate arena, the worse it looks for him. More debates mean more opportunities for Cuccinelli to prove himself as a sound and thoughtful candidate who has a plan.