10/31/13: Two inseparable candidates

This op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

I DON’T get it.

In every poll of our gubernatorial race since mid-July — 21 in all — Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has led Republican Ken Cuccinelli. A Washington Post/ Abt SRBI poll released Monday shows a 12-point lead for McAuliffe, 51 percent to 39 percent for Cuccinelli.

The same poll — and nearly every other poll — shows the contest for attorney general to be a dead heat. Democrat Mark Herring leads Republican Mark Obenshain 49 percent to 46 percent, well within the poll’s +/- 4.5 percent margin of error.

How is it possible that the same voters who are rejecting Cuccinelli are not also rejecting Obenshain?

Cuccinelli and Obenshain share the same political philosophy. Both were against the transportation bill, which passed the legislature earlier this year. Cuccinelli worked to undermine it while Obenshain voted against it.

Both are in favor of defending Virginia against “federal overreach.” Both have been vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion. In a debate earlier this year, Obenshain claimed that standing up to the federal government is “the number one job” of the attorney general. He has voiced opposition to the so-called “war on coal.”

Both are social conservatives. Obenshain received a 100 percent rating from The Family Foundation of Virginia, besting Cuccinelli’s 91 percent rating from four years ago.

The Family Foundation of Virginia counts among its “victories” the ultrasound bill, regulation of abortion clinics and the marriage amendment. It has on its agenda the demise of no-fault divorce and embryonic stem cell research.

In other words, Obenshain is Cuccinelli 2.0.

The voters aren’t the only ones being schizophrenic with their choices. Some editorial boards are having the same problem. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, for example, couldn’t bring itself to endorse in the gubernatorial contest but was gushing in its endorsement of Obenshain.

The Richmond paper mentioned Obenshain’s “moderate temperament and calm demeanor,” two attributes I believe take some of the edge off his opinions.

Unlike the acerbic Cuccinelli, Obenshain is fairly soft spoken, with the drawl of his native Shenandoah Valley roots. He speaks of safe communities and jobs, downplaying his voting record of supporting such legislation as personhood and photo ID.

None of that Cuccinelli in-your-face stuff comes from Obenshain. He demurs when asked, for example, about such things as employment discrimination of gay Virginians, as he did in the first debate held in Virginia Beach in June.

But there is more to him than his demeanor. A look at one incident earlier this year is instructive.

Obenshain introduced a bill that would have allowed the withholding of information about concealed handgun permits issued to someone who was granted a protective order.

The bill passed the Senate on a 39-1 vote. When it was sent to the House, it was completely rewritten, eliminating public access to all concealed handgun permits. As reported in this paper, Obenshain declared the revised bill “fantastic.”

Virginian-Pilot reporters Julian Walker and Bill Sizemore’s February article on the matter stated, “Asked whether his bill was filed as a vehicle to broaden protections of concealed-weapon permit records in anticipation of a House alteration, Obenshain winked, then said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ ”

That was a pretty sly move on Obenshain’s part and an indication of how he will operate if elected as attorney general.

What’s past is prologue. Virginians failed to heed warnings four years ago about Cuccinelli. His headline-grabbing antics have been an embarrassment.

Given their philosophical similarities, I don’t see how Obenshain will be different.