Fueled by sweet tea, which he gave up for Lent, Cuccinelli tackles a few homes. No lawn is safe from his brisk stride; he regularly takes the most direct route between doors rather than walking over to where the sidewalk begins. (“My wife’s a gardener,” Cuccinelli tells one resident. “I’d put Astroturf down everywhere, but I get outvoted one to one every year.”) At the first house, the man living there, a Cuccinelli fan who recalls seeing the attorney general on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox News show, asks why Republicans are doing so badly among young adults. Ron Paul, Cuccinelli rejoins, “did incredibly well among them, and he was talking about freedom, and how it matters in government and in their life” — a principle, he speculates, “that matters more to younger voters than it does to the rest of us.”
At the second home, an old blue-and-white Cuccinelli sign, reading “Re-elect Ken Cuccinelli. Republican for State Senate,” rests on the ground between the front steps and a bed of yellow daffodils. A man and a woman come to the door. Years ago, their son was one of several teens who volunteered for Cuccinelli. “Half of them were on the track team, including [their son], and so they could lit-drop a precinct in like three hours. It was like cheating,” Cuccinelli remembers. “It was like cheating,” he repeats. “It was awesome.”
The middle-aged couple tell Cuccinelli they love the Christmas cards that he and his wife send out, which include photos of the entire Cuccinelli family. “Have you ever seen the movie Babe?” Cuccinelli asks. “All our kids have watched it a million times. So you know, this pig can separate the chickens.” Cuccinelli recounts a scene in which Babe has separated the brown from the white chickens in the course of herding them. Referring to the Christmas card, one of the Cuccinelli children once said, “Hey, look — brown chickens, white chickens,” because the photo was divided between the family members who were more olive-skinned (thanks to Cuccinelli’s Italian heritage) and those who were paler. “It alternates by child,” Cuccinelli says. “It’s brown chicken, white chicken, brown chicken, white chicken. . . . That one picture is pretty funny for us,” he chuckles. When he leaves, the wife laughs: “Give our best to your wife,” she tells Cuccinelli, “and all those . . . chickens.”
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, a middle-aged woman suffering from an ear infection answers in her bathrobe and pajamas. Although she is shy about her attire, she still chats for a few minutes. Another woman, fetched by her preteen daughter, listens impatiently as Cuccinelli talks. She tells him she likely won’t start thinking about the election until September. I ask Cuccinelli if it’s awkward when people try to hustle him away. “Yes,” he says. “And I’m careful not to make that hard for them.”
He passes one house with a black Chevy Tahoe parked in the driveway, the back plastered with bumper stickers whose messages include “Obama ’08,” “Mark Warner Senate,” and “Obama Biden.” “That one,” Cuccinelli says, “would be tough. Not impossible.” He passes on by.
It is clear that Cuccinelli is an old hand at door-knocking. He is irritated that he has been given a binder instead of clipboard for recording information about the voters he talks to. “It looks like I’m deposing the person,” he complains. At one house, he notes that he used to start writing a note on a piece of campaign material after ringing the doorbell. If by the time he had finished the note nobody had answered his ring, he would tuck the note in the door and move on. For 22 years, he reflects, he has been knocking on doors and touting candidates. For the past eleven years, he’s been a politician, and so has had to do it to promote his own campaigns.
Do you prefer, I ask him, to knock doors as a volunteer or as a candidate? Cuccinelli doesn’t hesitate. “I much prefer being a volunteer,” he responds. “No pressure.”
“Less pressure,” he then corrects himself. “You still want to win.”