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Rebranding, Not Working for Ken Cuccinelli

Updated on October 24, 2013

Rebranding strategy is not working for Ken Cuccinelli in his bid for Governor of Virginia

Ken Cuccinelli, Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, has tried to change his image from rightwing activist to champion of the needy, but the strategy, so far, has been unsuccessful. Twenty-one days before the November election, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee, was leading Cuccinelli in an NBC4/NBC News polls by 5 percentage points (43-38); and an NBC4/NBC News Marist poll, conducted October 13 through 15, shows McAuliffe leading by 8 percentage points (46-38).

The rebranding strategy was put into effect as a result of the so-called autopsy report, which showed that Republicans need to change their image and to become likeable if they are going to win elections. Changing their image or changing their brand includes a change in appearance, but not in policy.

New Image

After creating an image to appeal to the extremist in the GOP, Cuccinelli began his campaign with efforts to show his softer side that had not been shown before. His first television ad was an attempt to do just that. It was an ad portraying him as a compassionate servant and defender of the needy. The ad was called “All About” and featured “his wife Tiero, who portrayed her husband as a man who stands up for people in need,” wrote Tim Ciesco, Reporter for WSLO 10 in Roanoke, Virginia. “My husband, Ken, has spent his life standing up for the vulnerable and those in need,” his wife said. “He worked the night shift at a homeless shelter, spent his college days leading efforts to prevent sexual assaults and represent those suffering from mental illness. As Attorney General, Ken fought to find and prosecute child predators and human traffickers.”

Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Cuccinelli said, “The Governor of Virginia must be willing to speak for those citizens who do not have a voice. As Governor, I want to continue our efforts to protect the most vulnerable citizens, as I have done as Attorney General,” according to Michel Warren in the Weekly Standard. Warren states that Cuccinelli “ended his speech “on a note of compassion.”

In May, Cuccinelli’s released an ad about his police-officer friend that was shot to death in a Fairfax shooting. The ad, as seen on television, pictured Cuccinelli delivering a passionate eulogy and the slain police officer’s wife speaking about Cuccinelli as a caring man. “The ad [was] undoubtedly an effort to emphasize Cuccinelli’s compassionate side early on in what is likely to be a thoroughly negative campaign,” according to the National Review Online.

In September, Alex Pappas posted an article on dailycaler.com entitled “Cuccinelli shows compassion with an ad about an exonerated prisoner.” Pappas continued: “Often attacked by liberals as a conservative hardliner on social issues, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli is airing a new, positive television ad that is being praised for showing the Republican’s compassionate side. The advertisement tells the story of Cuccinelli’s work as Attorney General of Virginia that led to the exoneration of Thomas Haynesworth, an innocent black man, who wrongly spent 27 years in prison on rape convictions...” In the television ad, with Haynesworth standing in front of him, Cuccinelli said: “After going through the evidence, I was convinced that [he] was innocent, and I took that case on myself. To me, he’s a hell of a guy.”

These ads and speech show a softer side of Cuccinelli rather than his tough side. But his extreme conservatism seems to be overshadowing his compassionate conservatism. In fact, he makes it known that his views on the Affordable Care Act, known also as Obamacare, have not changed and he has not changed his views on other hot-button issues. His image change is more cosmetic than real.

Democratic Response

No matter how hard Cuccinelli tries to change his public image, Democrats will not allow him to mask who he is. In fact, they keep before the voters his old image of an extreme ideologue, in which, he will do or say anything to win the governorship.

Terry McAuliffe, his challenger for the governor’s mansion, keeps Cuccinelli’s radical agenda before the voting public via television ads, which are also posted on You Tube. One such ad features a 30-year OBGYN doctor, Dolly Puritz, who says she is offended by Cuccinelli, because he “wants to make all abortions illegal, even in cases of rape and incest” and even if it is to protect a woman’s health. The You Tube video, in one month, had 5,798 viewers.

Another ad reminds voters that Cuccinelli supported extreme divorce legislation, which would make it hard for a woman to get a divorce. A woman featured in the ad said, “Ken Cuccinelli writes a bill that gives Virginia one of the most extreme divorce laws in America. If Cuccinelli had his way, a mom trying to get out of a bad marriage over the objection of her husband could only get divorced if she could prove adultery or physical abuse or her spouse had abandoned her or was sentenced to jail.” The You Tube video had 5, 417 viewers in one month.

Two ads remind voters about Cuccinelli’s overreach as Attorney General, telling how he had helped an out-of-state energy company to rip off Southwest Virginia landowners.

Other organizations augment the McAuliffe campaign. Keep Ken Out—Virginia Can’t Risk Ken Cuccinelli website lists five things voters should know about Cuccinelli: 1. He opposes abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, and health of the woman. 2. He wants to make birth control less affordable and accessible. 3. He supports “personhood” legislation that could interfere with personal, private medical disorders. 4. He would cut women off Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services. 5. He supports targeted restrictions on abortion providers that have caused health centers to close.

The Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Mark Herring, in television interviews and in television ads, keeps Cuccinelli’s radical record as Attorney General before the voting public, even tying him to Mark Obenshain, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, and radical extremist, E.W. Jackson, candidate for Lieutenant Governor.

Mainstream and Libertarian Republicans

Although mainstream and Libertarian Republicans are talking little about Cuccinelli’s record as Attorney General and as State Senator, they are expressing their fear of him as the possible Governor of Virginia, showing their anger of his high-jacking of the party’s nomination process, and voicing their support for Terry McAuliffe.

In an article posted on the website Keep Ken Out, entitled “Republicans Who Want to Keep Ken Cuccinelli Out,” lists 22 mainstream Republicans who will not endorse him or will support Terry McAuliffe. “You have heard us say this many times, Ken Cuccinelli is too extreme for Virginia and we cannot risk him as our next governor,” the article says. “But you don’t need to take our word for it. Turns out, his own party thinks he’s too extreme.”

The list of Republicans includes: Bill Bolling, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia; Russ Potts, former State Senator; Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association; Joe Scarborough, Co host of Morning Joe on MSNBC; Dwight Schar, former RNC finance chair—2005-2007—who previously supported Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s campaign; Earle Williams, former President and CEO of BDM International, who ran for the GOP nomination in 1993; Katherine Waddell, former Republican Delegate; Jan Schar, former President of the Virginia Federation of Republican Women; Milt Peterson, principle and chairman of Peterson companies and longtime supporter of Virginia Republicans; Linwood Holton, former Republican Governor of Virginia; Bruce Thompson, Virginia businessman who served as tourism chair on Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s Economic Development and Jobs Commissions; and Judy Ford Wason, Republican strategist who previously served in the Reagan administration.

The lists continues: John Chichester, former Republican State Senator; Vince Callahan, former Republican Delegate; John Sherman, Virginia businessman who supported Republican Bob McDonnell’s campaign for governor; Panny Rhodes, former Republican Delegate and member of the VCU Board of Visitors; Robert Bloxom, former Republican Delegate and Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry; Preston Bryant, former Republican Delegate and current Senior Vice President of McGuire Woods Consulting; Clinton Miller, former Republican Delegate; Boyd Marcus, former Republican strategist, who has worked for Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore; Brandon Bell, former Republican and Independent State Senator, who supported Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2009; Maria Jankowski, Richmond attorney who was appointed to the Board of Medical Assistance Services by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell; Bobby Beck, founder of Beck Company, which owns and manages twelve hotels throughout Virginia, and who is supporting a democratic governor for the first time; and Will Sesssoms, Republican Mayor of Virginia Beach.

Dissatisfied Libertarians are running their own candidate. According to the latest polls, Robert Sarvis is at 10 percent, which, most political analysts believe, are taken, by and large, from Cuccinelli.

Rebranding, therefore, is not working very well for Ken Cuccinelli. It is not working for at least three reasons: One, his extreme makeover without policy changes is not convincing. Two, his Democratic opponents will not allow his real image to be glossed over. And three, Republicans, knowing his extreme record and feeling the hurt he inflicted on the Party in his high-jacking of the Republican Primary, are both frightened and angered.

Ken Cuccinelli, undoubtedly, has a compassionate side, but he spent his entire career creating an image that could not be erased over night—even if he wanted to do so.

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