"It's already started with Ken and it should be noted in early 2009 they were saying the ticket of McDonnell, [Lt. Gov Bill] Bolling, and Cuccinelli was the most radical ticket ever in Virginia history, and we fully expect that to be recycled this year as well.… If the Democrats believe that what voters want to hear about is that the Republican is a right-wing nut job, I just don't think it's something that's going to fly."
LaCivita, a longtime GOP strategist, also noted that Cuccinelli has been "elected twice in Fairfax County," a part of Northern Virginia thought to be less conservative than much of the state, "and once statewide."
"Terry McAuliffe hasn't been elected dog catcher," LaCivita said. "Ken is a smart guy, he's shown how to get things done and has a pretty good idea about the issues facing the commonwealth…. He's put his foot down on a lot of major issues, but what his detractors say is, You may not agree with where Ken Cuccinelli stands on the issues, but you always know where he is."
It's the Economy, Virginia
LaCivita added that "independents and moderates, Virginians all, it doesn't matter what political persuasion" have concerns about the state's economy, employment, education and transportation -- issues Cuccinelli has been working on for 20 years -- and that's how they plan to fashion their campaign.
As for the McAuliffe campaign, they are also planning to focus on the economy. McEachin says what McAuliffe needs to do first, despite his last race, is introduce himself to the state.
"He's not been seen as a major party nominee at the statewide level ever," McEachin said. " Once we get through that period and once he focuses on his business experience, his experience creating jobs, how he knows what it takes to attract businesses to Virginia, how he can help the president keep the economy on an even keel, he will appeal to Virginians of all philosophical stripes."
McAuliffe is selling himself to the state, not as a former party chair and fundraiser, but with his business credentials. He owns an electric-car company, but has gotten some scrutiny in the state for opening two plants not in Virginia but in Mississippi. McAuliffe says the state didn't offer incentives, while Mississippi did.
One thing the attorney general does have going for him, Skelley notes, is that Virginia "has an amusing history, whichever party is not in control of the White House has won the governorship since 1977."
National issues can affect the race -- especially now that Virginia is truly a swing state -- Skelley notes and how the president's second term is going could affect McAuliffe's chances.
"If the economy is improving, maybe it would bode well for McAuliffe. If it's not going well, I can see him losing to Cuccinelli," Skelley said.
It's early for polls, but a Quinnipiac poll from last month had McAuliffe with a four-point edge to Cuccinelli, 41 percent to 37 percent.
Possible Republican Drama
Although who's in the race seems settled, there is a chance for a shakeup due to the animosity between Bolling and Cuccinelli. Bolling pulled out of the race last month, making the decision after Cuccinelli supporters on the state party's central committee were able to change the nominating process last spring from a primary to a convention, which tend to favor more conservative candidates with grassroots support. Bolling was also lagging in polls and Cuccinelli was favored to win the primary.