Virginia gubernatorial candidates faced off in Haymarket Theatre on Thursday night for the third and final debate before the Nov. 5 election.
Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe engaged in a bitter battle about jobs, women’s rights, education and gun rights, with both candidates mentioning the April 16 massacre several times during the course of the debate.
Cuccinelli, who is adamantly opposed to universal background checks, said that it’s “nearly impossible to find the Cho before it happens,” referring to shooter Seung-Hui Cho. The National Rifle Association has given Cuccinelli an “A+” rating, while opponent Terry McAuliffe received an “F.”
“I don’t care what rating the NRA gives me,” said McAuliffe, who has stated numerous times that he supports universal background checks and is against arming professors and resource officers in public schools.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure our communities are safe,” McAuliffe said. “I never want to see another Newtown, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech again.”
Heading into the debate, polls showed McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli anywhere from seven to nine points, while libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis polled right around the 10 percent threshold that would have admitted him into the debate.
According to rules agreed upon by the candidates and debate host WDBJ-7, Sarvis would have needed to poll above 10 percent two weeks prior to the event in order to be included.
During the debate, the candidates were asked about how Sarvis’ inclusion in the debate would have affected them.
McAuliffe mentioned that his campaign was in favor of having the debate, saying “We made that clear, obviously, to the television station and everybody else. We’re about bringing folks together to move the commonwealth forward.”
Meanwhile, Cuccinelli said that his campaign was pleased to have independent politician Rand Paul’s endorsement.
“I will point out that in my lifetime, in Virginia, I am the strongest pro-liberty candidate ever elected statewide,” Cuccinelli said.
Sarvis tweeted out during the debate that Cuccinelli’s campaign had “moved goalposts and forced the exclusion.”
The candidates brought up higher education several times, as the pair had different perspectives on SOL reform, private versus public funding for colleges and financial aid.
“We want critical reasoning going on with our students so we can build the jobs of the 21st century,” McAuliffe said. “Education is important— that’s how you build a 21st century economy.”
Cuccinelli’s focal point of the debate was his job plan, which he said will bring 58,000 new jobs to the commonwealth by reducing personal income tax and lowering the business tax to four percent.
“More people are just dying for the dignity to work, and I mean full-time work, not Obamacare part-time work, but full-time work more than anything we’re facing in Virginia,” Cuccinelli said.
When Terry McAullife was asked about job growth, Cuccinelli scolded his plan, saying, “He has made no plans. I like puppies but I don’t bring a puppy home if I don’t have a plan for how to deal with that puppy— he’s all puppy no plan.”
With 10 days left before the election, both candidates are gearing up to finish their respective campaigns strong in the commonwealth.
McAuliffe will return to Blacksburg with former President Bill Clinton on Monday for a campaign stop at Owens Hall, while Cuccinelli will be campaigning with Rand Paul on Monday in Fairfax.