Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on 7/20
(CNN) - Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell should consider resigning in the face of federal and state investigations into lavish gifts he and his family received from a wealthy executive, the two men running to succeed McDonnell said during a debate Saturday.
Neither of the candidates, Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, issued an outright call for McDonnell to leave office when asked about the controversy by the debate’s moderator. But both said he should at least contemplate stepping down.
“While that question is appropriate to ask Gov. McDonnell, and it is appropriate to ask him to think about that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask for the sitting attorney general to address it when I started one of the investigations,” Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he was reluctant to “pre-judge” the ongoing investigations before all the facts are known, but added: “I would agree with the attorney general that he should consider it.”
The two candidates are now the most prominent political leaders in the state to suggest McDonnell, a Republican, should consider resigning. Term limits in Virginia prevent McDonnell from running for re-election.
State and federal investigators are looking into McDonnell's relationship with Jonnie Williams, the CEO of a troubled nutritional supplement company called Star Scientific who provided the governor and his family with almost $150,000 in previously undisclosed gifts, including a Rolex watch, a Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree, and a high-dollar payment to a company owned by McDonnell.
The 90-minute debate, which was sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association, took place at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia and was moderated by PBS anchor Judy Woodruff.
In the first face-to-face meeting between the two, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe traded blows over familiar campaign themes. Recent polls suggest the race is neck-and-neck, though many voters are still unfamiliar with the candidates and their positions.
McAuliffe repeatedly hammered Cuccinelli as a dangerous conservative ideologue who would scare off potential investors and rattle Virginia’s influential business community.
“Ken, you are a true Trojan horse of Virginia politics,” he said. “You come in pretending to be one thing, and really are something else.”
Cuccinelli sought to paint McAuliffe, a prodigious Democratic fundraiser and confidante for former President Bill Clinton, as a deal-making Washington insider and failed businessman who wants to raise taxes on Virginians.
“I’ll be a governor who fights for the middle class and not the well-connected or the influence peddlers,” Cuccinelli said.
The Republican landed an early blow against McAuliffe on the matter of GreenTech Automotive, a struggling electric car company the Democrat founded, but resigned from last year.
McAuliffe has pointed to the company as an example of his private sector savvy, but Cuccinelli drew attention to the fact that GreenTech chose to set up manufacturing operations in Mississippi instead of Virginia.
“You picked Mississippi, so run for governor of Mississippi,” Cuccinelli said pointedly, drawing snickers from the crowd.
But it was Cuccinelli who spent most of the debate on defense, awkwardly fielding questions about his staunchly conservative social views, his opposition to a landmark transportation compromise in Richmond and his ties to Williams, the controversial donor entangled with McDonnell.
Cuccinelli owned stock in Williams’ company, but sold off his shares earlier this year. He also collected more than $18,000 in gifts from the executive and stayed at his vacation house on Smith Mountain Lake.
McAuliffe accused the attorney general of providing Williams with special favors in return for gifts - a blatant “quid pro quo,” McAuliffe charged.
An ethics investigation into Cuccinelli and Williams cleared the attorney general of any wrongdoing this week, but revealed as a footnote that Cuccinelli put the executive in touch with an attorney who could help him win grants from a state agency.
Cuccinelli’s avowed social conservatism also consumed much of the debate, as when Woodruff asked the Republican about a past remark that “same-sex acts are against nature and are harmful to society.”
Cuccinelli stood by the comment. “My personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven’t changed,” he said.
Republican Ken Cuccinelli should drop out of the race as well. He is also guilty of taking gifts from the same man and not reporting them.
Cucinelli is just as corrupt as McDonnell, and should be resigning with him. Sick and tired of the corrupt GOP thinking they're above the law.
The headline on the main page is "Candidates say Governor should resign" when in fact the story is explicit that they DIDN'T say that. The two candidates said Governor MCDonnell should be asked that question and consider his response. That is something entirely different than calling on him to resign.
What a waste of time. Cuccinelli and all these regressive republicans do not want to help the average working family or the poor. All they do is say is NO to any solutions that will effect the pocketbooks of the rich. They conduct wars on women, education, immigrants and even infrastructure, but come up with zilch in the way of solutions. The amazing part of their actions is that they will doom the old venerable party to oblivion unless the give up their ridiculous dream of returning to a country that has not progressed past the 1950's. Isn't there any one with the intelligence and sanity in the GOP that understands we live in a multi-cultural, multi-racial country, now, in the 21st. century?
Typical republican behavior.
The primary politician who needs to resign for criminal behaviors, is Obama.
Women of the state of Virginia, rejoice. Looks like the Republicans, honoring their tradition of accusing others of their own crimes and thus shooting themselves in the foot, just gave the election to Terry McAuliffe. Poetic justice.
Cuccinelli is a hypocrite. He brags about starting an investigation against the governor but, he does not disclose that he is currently helping to squash a federal case against the current Mcdonnell administration for entering into an illegal contract involving federal funds and enrichment of friends by an appointee.
McAuliffe, on the other hand, has appointed the person, Nancy Rodrigues, who was found to be guilty of entering into the illegal contract, as his Treasurer. The investigation was performed by the State's Internal auditors who found that the allegations of entering into an illegal contract was substantiated. Further, the investigation revealed that Rodriguez participated in racial discriminatory acts as Sec of the State Board of Elections.
GOP to oblivion!? Hahaha!