McLEAN, Va. (AP) -- Republican Ken Cuccinelli pushed his knowledge of Virginia's government in a debate Wednesday that, at times, left his Democratic opponent in the governor's race, Terry McAuliffe, without answers or changing the subject.
And Cuccinelli found himself furiously rejecting McAuliffe claims that his actions against gay rights as attorney general had almost driven business from Virginia and that he had put wealthy benefactors and campaign contributors ahead of Virginia taxpayers.
The first prime-time television debate in Virginia's 2013 governor's race provoked overstated rhetoric that left both crying foul Wednesday night.
Cuccinelli scored sound points repeatedly asserting government experience he gleaned in eight years as a state senator and the last four as attorney general. At one point he exposed that McAuliffe didn't know that state constitutional amendment -- not a law -- is required to reverse the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
McAuliffe had just told NBC News political director Chuck Todd, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate moderator, that he supports "marriage equality" and claimed that Cuccinelli had called gays "soulless and self-destructive human beings." McAuliffe said it was a major difference between the two.
Cuccinelli denounced the quote about gays that McAuliffe had attributed to him as "offensively false." But at a 2008 Family Foundation event, Cuccinelli, then a state senator, was quoted as saying, "When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul."
Later, Cuccinelli flipped the question of McAuliffe's statements about Virginia's 2006 amendment limiting marriage in Virginia to a man and a woman, lecturing McAuliffe -- who has never held elective public office -- on legislative process. McAuliffe said that if he could get a marriage equality bill on his desk, he'd sign it.
"Actually, it doesn't happen in the form of a bill. It's a constitutional amendment so it never comes to the governor," Cuccinelli said.
To amend the constitution, a resolution must be passed unchanged by Virginia's General Assembly in two separate years divided by a legislative election, then put on a statewide ballot for voter approval in a general election.