Republican Ken Cuccinelli II, center, greets Kelley Rogers, left, and… (Marvin Joseph )
Ken Cuccinelli II, a conservative Republican state senator with a base in Fairfax County, soundly defeated Democrat Stephen C. Shannon on Tuesday in Virginia's race for attorney general, after pledging to take the office in an aggressive new direction.
As a candidate, Cuccinelli, 41, had said he would not defend laws he thinks are unconstitutional and would take on the federal government if necessary. But the Fairfax senator also sought to address the economic anxieties that were an undercurrent in the election results.
Cuccinelli said Tuesday night that deregulation is high on his priority list once in office. "You go back through your entire book of regulations and start looking where you can cut them out," he said in an interview.
And if the federal government passes new rules on labor organizing known as "card check," he will "take a hard look at resisting that" in federal court, he said.
Shannon, 38, tried to portray Cuccinelli as an ideologue whose approach to federal law was reminiscent of the state's past opposition to civil rights legislation. The Democratic state delegate from Fairfax stepped up his attack after Cuccinelli told a newspaper that homosexual acts are "intrinsically wrong."
But supporters cast the resounding victory as proof that the GOP had better tapped voters' moods in a crucial swing state that supported Barack Obama a year ago. They also said voters saw through a Democratic effort to paint Cuccinelli as an extremist.
"They didn't make that attack in a vacuum," said GOP political consultant Ray Allen Jr., who was involved in Robert F. McDonnell's campaign and is a senior strategist for U.S. House whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "My 401K is down, my home values are down, I'm worried about losing my job. These are serious times. . . . Ten days before the election they say, 'No, no, no, this guy's an extremist.' It's crazy."
Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University, said Cuccinelli's victory is a reminder that "Virginia remains a competitive, two-party state. All the talk of Virginia transitioning to blue was overstated." And with anxieties about the economy and the future of health care on the national level, it was a bad year to run as a Democrat, he said.
But Rozell also said the attorney general's race was overshadowed by the governor's contest. "The reality is, many voters don't pay close attention to the down-ticket races . . . so it's a lot easier for a candidate who might otherwise be very controversial to slide under the radar for many voters," he said.
In his victory speech, Cuccinelli brought out a broom to signify the GOP sweep of the top three statewide posts. It was emblazoned with the amalgam McBollinelli, for McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Cuccinelli.
Minutes later, a "Don't Tread On Me" flag, a frequent presence in Cuccinelli's campaign, was unfurled. It's a symbol, Cuccinelli said, of a "limited government that respects constitutional boundaries."
Cuccinelli supporters said that in debates he showed a command of the law, and he received a key endorsement from Virginia's Fraternal Order of Police, a fact frequently mentioned in ads.
Each candidate ran on a law-and-order platform. Cuccinelli promised to fight "sexual predators, drug dealers and gangs." Cuccinelli's win showed the fissures in Northern Virginia's electorate. He won in Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties, lost big in Arlington County and Alexandria and was trailing slightly in Fairfax County.
Even some of his harshest opponents gave Cuccinelli some credit. "Ken is who he is. . . . He doesn't sugarcoat things for voters or try to hide," said Scott Surovell, the former chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and a friend of Shannon's, who characterizes some of Cuccinelli's views as extremist.
"If he chooses to make the office a hub for political causes, then that could bring a lot of negative attention to this state," Surovell said.
Staff writer Derek Kravitz contributed to this report.