Attorney General Debate In Roanoke

Bob Holsworth has a write up of last night’s Republican AG debate in Roanoke:

At times, Brownlee displayed a level of political talent and skill that belied his stature as a political novice, running for office for the first time. Yet he also offered an interpretation of how the Attorney General should employ a ”moral filter” in reaching decisions that not only differed sharply from Cuccinelli and Foster, but represented an entrely new conception of the AG’s role in Virginia. And I am not certain how this conception would play out in the course  of a campaign.

By contrast, Ken Cuccinelli, often  portrayed in the media as an ideological lightning rod, came across as measured and pragmatic. I left feeling that Cuccinelli could learn something from Brownlee’s understanding of the kind of message that is likely to drive a general election choice in an AG’s race. But I also thought that Cuccinelli is far less likely to adopt new positions in the heat of battle that might throw the entire race off kilter.

Dave Foster came across as a thoughtful, witty and intelligent candidate, though I still guess that much of the political oxygen in the race is likely to be sucked out by Cuccinelli and Brownlee. His best hope seems to be either a train wreck involving both of them or a brokered convention in which neither Cuccinelli or Brownlee can find their way to a majority.

  • Anon

    You forgot:

    In my opinion, Brownlee did a superb job explaining how he would frame a general election choice against the Democrat’s presumptive nominee, Steve Shannon, and why his background as a U.S. Attorney was especially relevant. He argued that the public has come to expect (even if some argue that it is not the essential part of the job) that the Attorney General will serve as Virginia’s top prosecutor and as overall advocate for the public against bad guys and illegal practices. In terms of the more conventional administrative part of the position, he maintained that the varied responsibilities of the U.S. Attorney and his work with a range of federal, state and local agencies was excellent preparation for the AG’s leadership of the people’s law firm. It is, he said, essentially the same job.

    . . .

    I felt that Brownlee had a clear advantage in this part of the debate. He recognized that a statewide campaign needs an overarching theme that often goes beyond the particular set of issues with which your candidacy might be associated. And he did an especially good job in weaving his own background as a military officer and a prosecutor into a broader political appeal. Moreover, he has developed through his courtroom experience an enviable capacity for succint arguments and effective sound bites.

    Brownlee derided Cuccinelli as only a regional candidate. And while this, I think, is clearly wrong inasmuch as Cuccinelli has a statewide base, it touches on a matter to which he should pay some attention. The AG campaign won’t simply be the Fairfax contests writ large. In downticket statewide races, voters often get to know only one or two key themes of a candidate. And Cuccinelli would do well to take a page out of Brownlee’s book and think about how his set of issues can be woven together into a compelling theme that can frame a statewide candidacy.


  • I also forgot:

    If the debate had simply ended here, I would declared Brownlee the winner on points.

    Yet at a crucial moment, the debate turned in an unexpected way in which Brownlee provided an opening for Cuccinelli and Foster (and perhaps for the Democrats in the fall if he receives the GOP nod).

    Brownlee articulated a position that was, in part, perfectly consistent with Cuccinelli’s about the responsibility of the AG to uphold the Constitution. But then he took it a step further. He asserted that as Attoney General he would also have to utilize a “moral filter” and that he should not enforce legislation that was clearly immoral.

    Both Cuccinelli and Foster understood right away that Brownlee had potentially dug himself a hole and declined to follow his lead. I think that Cuccinelli intutively knew that Brownlee’s position was akin to one that conservatives have consistently criticized liberal judges for holding: substituting their own moral judgment for a strict reading of the constitution.

    Cuccinelli reiterated that the Attorney General has to be guided by the Constitution. If the General Assembly passed or considered legislation that was personally discomforting but constitutional, Cuccinelli maintained that he would work with his political allies to develop legislative countermeasures.

    Foster’s criticism was even more direct, saying that he did not believe it was the Attorney General’s role to overturn the will of the popularly elected representatives of the people when they acted constitutionally and that he uncomfortable with the prospect of an Attorney General using his own moral filter to respond to legislation.

    It seems to me that Cuccinelli’s and Foster’s positions are not only far more traditional, but are far less less likely to cause problems in the November election.

  • FWIW, the unaffiliated folks I spoke with last night almost unanimously viewed Brownlee as the “winner” of the debate but they were also impressed with Cuccinelli as a solid second. Many who hadn’t seen Ken before said things like “Brownlee won but Cuccinelli wasn’t nearly as crazy as people told me he’d be.” I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment but it wasn’t meant that way. The point was that he gave very reasoned, articulate and rational answers and a lot of people really didn’t know what to expect. I was honestly surprised that he didn’t apply Brownlee’s “moral filter” to the “enforce a law you don’t agree with” question.

    Foster had his moments too but there’s no real debating that the two worst answers of the night were his. I’ll put up my thoughts on our blog when I have a chance but I thought Holsworth’s article was almost dead on and I wanted to drop a quick comment here.

  • Not a huge surprise here that a Kenney brother is leaning to Cuccinelli.

  • My random off the top of the head thoughts from the Debate.

  • LI – If one is going to selectively quote from the linked article in order to create a slant then I have every right to correct that as needed. But I’m not surprised that you’d anonymously take issue with anything that reflects well on Cuccinelli.

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