Virginia's Gubernatorial Sleaze-Off

Revelations of shady dealings by both gubernatorial candidates have made an already nasty race positively loathsome.

Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe (Associated Press)

Even before it began, it was clear Virginia's gubernatorial race would be no picnic, unless you are in the habit of picnicking with manic people with a penchant for dogmatic harangues. On one side, a Democratic Party hack and Friend of Bill Clinton who boasts in his memoir about ditching his wife and newborn to attend fundraisers; on the other, a Tea Party crusader whose ideological pursuit of climate scientists and sodomites alike makes his own party's establishment recoil in horror. Also, his running mate thinks yoga is satanic.

But it could always be worse in politics, and sure enough, worse it has gotten. Both men's air of distastefulness has skyrocketed in recent weeks with revelations of personal sleaze.

First, Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe. This weekend saw front-page stories in both the New York Times and Washington Post about his automotive startup, GreenTech, a Mississippi-based electric-vehicle manufacturer unveiled to much fanfare at a ceremony featuring Clinton and then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. The articles paint a picture of McAuliffe as chiefly concerned with padding his political resume, not creating jobs or saving the Earth -- and willing to work his connections, possibly improperly, to make it happen.

Just a few hundred of the glorified golf carts have been manufactured, apparently crafted more or less by hand to circumvent a nonfunctioning assembly line. Federal investigators are looking into whether McAuliffe got special treatment from the Obama Administration when he appealed to Vice President Biden's office to get a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to get visas approved for his foreign partners; the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the promises he made to investors. The car factory, which journalists are not allowed to see, was described as "a Potemkin manufacturing facility, where managers stage a semblance of production for the benefit of visitors" in a tut-tutting Post editorial. In the Times, McAuliffe's former business partner lamented his own bad judgment at having gone into business with a politician.

The Republican nominee, Ken Cuccinelli, has had his own troubles. Currently Virginia's attorney general, he is shadowed by the money-and-influence cloud hanging over the current governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, who has apologized for accepting cash and gifts from a friend-donor who also allegedly got favors from his administration. (The cash: more than $100,000, which McDonnell calls a loan and has repaid. The gifts include a Rolex and catering for the governor's daughter's wedding. "Perhaps the governor should reacquaint himself with the phrase, 'No, thank you,'" opined the Post.) Cuccinelli has reported receiving $18,000 worth of gifts from the same donor, Jonnie Williams, including "a flight, a turkey dinner, stays at Williams's vacation home and nearly $7,000 in [vitamin] supplements." Because the gifts were "intangible," he says he can't return them, and he can't afford to write a check for their value. A father of seven, Cuccinelli has trouble making ends meet on his $150,000 salary, according to his campaign strategist.

Democrats are also pumping an investigation into one of Cuccinelli's staffers, who apparently gave legal advice to energy companies fighting a lawsuit over gas royalties; one of the companies is a Cuccinelli donor. The haze of shady dealings has left Virginians rather whipsawed. "Jesus, who the hell am I supposed to vote for?" one poor voter told National Journal's Beth Reinhard. The Virginia press have taken to wringing their hands over all the mudslinging. Associated Press columnist Bob Lewis lamented that the candidates' stances on policy have been obscured by the constant talk of scandal; the editorial page of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star noted, "Virginians, it could be worse: We could have text-happy Anthony Weiner or Bob 'Filthy' Filner running for office." The Lance-Star gave the state's politicians credit for succumbing only to "greed, not tacky sex."

It was a brave feat of looking on the bright side. One merely hopes it wasn't tempting fate.