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Virginia's Cuccinelli draws fire from business leaders

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

In Virginia, increasingly one of the nation's most competitive battleground states, there appears to be a division between Republican business leaders and social conservative activists, neither of whom has any use for the other.

And with about eight months to go before the commonwealth holds its next gubernatorial election, the GOP's candidate, right-wing state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is finding himself at the center of this fissure. Over the weekend, some prominent Virginia business leaders reportedly "got into a heated exchange" with the Republican in front of leading party donors.

Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime Republican donor and CEO of Northern Virginia Technology Council, and Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, stood up separately to confront Cuccinelli about what is on the minds of many Virginia and national Republicans: whether the Tea Party-backed attorney general can, or wants to, run a pragmatic campaign in the increasingly moderate Old Dominion.

The face-off took place at a meeting of the Republican Governor's Association's "Executive Roundtable," a group of national CEOs and business leaders, Friday morning at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington.... But instead of simply making his pitch and picking up a few business cards from potential donors, Cuccinelli was all but dressed down by two fellow Virginians.

Keep in mind, these were not independent business leaders, who simply want Cuccinelli to broaden his vision beyond a reactionary culture-war agenda; these were Republican business leaders who find themselves scared of Cuccinelli's extremism.

Indeed, Shapiro, who sits on the board of the influential Northern Virginia Technology Council, "said the state's centrist-oriented business community won't back the Republican standard-bearer because he's out of the mainstream." Shapiro later added that the state GOP, if it pushes a right-wing social agenda, may in turn make it more difficult for Virginia to attract new businesses.

The larger dynamic probably won't unfold in earnest until the 2014 midterms, but that's what makes the Virginia race so interesting now -- it's shaping up as something of a proxy fight.

As we've discussed several times in recent weeks, at the national level, there's a heated dispute underway among Republican stakeholders. On the one hand, we see Karl Rove and the party establishment, which includes business leaders, urging the party to be practical and pragmatic, at least trying to appeal to the American mainstream. This includes, of course, nominating electable conservative candidates.

And on the other, we see every far-right voice in American who's spent the last few weeks condemning Rove and his allies. Republicans, they argue, shouldn't be overly concerned with the mainstream or big business; they should be concerned with motivating right-wing activists.

In Virginia, it's fairly obvious which camp Cuccinelli and his supporters fall into.

If the right-wing state A.G. loses in November, it may very well strengthen the hand of party insiders worried about whom the base will nominate in the 2014 primaries. If Cuccinelli prevails, the emboldened far-right base will likely push even harder next year to punish those they consider RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).