With Cuccinelli, Door to Door
Running for governor in a purple state, he mixes in warmth and charm with his conservative message.


Katrina Trinko

Reagan wasn’t initially slated to be named after the president. “She was going to be Adalida, which was torture to my wife,” Cuccinelli recalls. But “she had her way on the first three, and I said that this is my turn, and so she was Adalida until eight months in.” Then one day his wife called him up at work: “‘How about Reagan for Adalida?’ And I said, ‘Well, for Reagan, I’ll give up Adalida.’” His fondness for “Adalida” comes from George Strait’s 1995 country song by that name.

The older Cuccinnelli children are still in school, and the younger ones are homeschooled. Cuccinelli, who majored in mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, helps the older children with algebra. “They like to hate it, I love to love it,” he says of the subject. “I love algebra,” he stresses. “Love it.”

On the car ride to a campaign event, I pepper Cuccinelli with questions, and he’s good-natured about the randomness of the topics. Does he have a favorite Supreme Court case? Cuccinelli is stumped: “No one’s ever asked me that before.” He doesn’t have one. What book would he write about if he had to write a college-admissions essay? “Well, mine,” he says. Not allowed, I tell him. “That’s fine, then. McAuliffe’s,” he says, alluding to What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals, by his opponent in the gubernatorial race, Terry McAuliffe. “Although if I wanted to get in, I probably wouldn’t write on that one,” he snarks. Ultimately, he picks Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Rand, Cuccinelli says, “captured an awful lot of the battle for our government that’s going on right now” and saw “the natural course of bigger government, [the problem of] relying on it for everything, and the control it takes over everything as it goes down that path.” Cuccinelli observes that “we’re having a debate about that right now in this country, about whether that’s the right way to go or not.”

Still, he doesn’t consider himself a Randian, because of Rand’s “Objectivist philosophy” and “very selfishly focused” mindset. He notes “the foundation that she appears to be building upon” and finds it to be not “consistent with the Founders’ vision for the country.” 

Cuccinelli has volunteered for a variety of causes: “food drives, tutoring in high school, sexual-assault prevention in college, coached a basketball team.” As a law student at George Mason University, he occasionally helped at a shelter for the homeless on cold nights. He’d go in around 9 p.m. and, after sleeping some, make breakfast and talk with the people there. They would converse, he remembers, about “everything you can imagine,” including sports. Sometimes they would play cards. The purpose of the shelter was to “give them a respite more than anything.”

“I didn’t have any silver bullets for them about how to proceed in life or anything,” he reflects soberly. “A lot of them are suffering, whether it was drug addiction or mental illness or they had other issues that were contributing to their homelessness. It wasn’t purely ‘I can’t afford some place to stay.’ There were reasons they couldn’t. And we weren’t equipped there to deal with that. We were just trying to take care of them for a night and let them know there were people who wanted to take care of them for a night.”

Helping others is a topic that Cuccinelli returns to when addressing his own volunteers in the parking lot of a campaign office. Those assembled to spend their Saturday knocking on doors to promote Cuccinelli’s candidacy include a mother and her toddler daughter, senior citizens, and a handful of young adults. Two people are wearing pink-rimmed sunglasses: the little girl and a young man in an argyle sweater. In the parking lot, a car with a Cuccinelli bumper sticker adjoins a car whose bumper sticker bears the message “Pray the rosary.”

Much of Cuccinelli’s speech is standard stump-speech fare. Quoting former Virginia governor Brian Moran’s jab at McAuliffe, for example, he says that “we need a fighter, not a fundraiser,” But he also touts his efforts, as a citizen, at “fighting sexual assault, working to prevent homelessness, helping people suffering from mental illness and veterans.”

After mingling with volunteers (“Nice shirt,” he tells a young woman wearing a campaign T-shirt), Cuccinelli goes to a nearby neighborhood to knock on a few doors himself. This area is well known to him. “I used to walk this neighborhood as a state senator,” he tells a voter.


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