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On the Campaign Trail

Taking Notes

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is not the standard candidate for higher office. McAuliffe, who is running for governor, visited Inova Alexandria Hospital this week to launch his healthcare platform. It was basically a standard rolling photo-op, involving the candidate meeting several of the hospital's senior officials. What was not standard was the reporter's notebook the candidate carried around with him, taking detailed notes along the way.

"He carries it with him everywhere he goes," said Josh Schwerin, press secretary for the Democratic candidate.

McAuliffe asks a lot of questions, and he takes a lot of notes. One of his favorite questions, which he posed to several people at the hospital, is what they would do if they were governor. Inova Alexandria CEO Christine Candio gave a pretty standard answer about expanding Medicaid and ensuring a "smooth transition" for the Affordable Care Act. But when McAuliffe posed the question to patient care director Valerie Murphy, he got a different kind of answer.

"I'd pay nurses more," she said without missing a beat.

McAullife jotted the answer down in his notebook, then moved on to the next stop on the tour.

On the Firing Line

When the General Assembly session began earlier this year, the nation was still reeling from the school shooting in Connecticut in which 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A number of gun-control efforts were introduced as legislators gathered in Richmond, most of which were unsuccessful.

One of the efforts that failed was House Bill 2263, which was introduced by Del. Rob Krupicka (D-45). The bill allowed law-enforcement officials to temporarily seize guns and ammunition of individuals who expressed an intent to inflict death or serious injury. The bill was promptly dispatched to a subcommittee, where it died an unceremonious death.

"My bill wasn't perfect," acknowledged Krupicka. "And I'm looking at some alternative approaches to bring forward in the future."

Now the effort has become a political issue on the campaign trail. Independent candidate Jeffrey Engle has criticized the effort as an unconstitutional threat to the right to bear arms in Virginia.

"Authorizing police to go and seize weapons of law-abiding citizens without them having committed a crime really pushes hard against the Bill of Rights," said Engle. "I have a lot of concerns about directly attaching a criminal liability to an individual for something that's not actually a crime."

Krupicka defended the bill as an effort to respond to a growing crisis.

"We require a background check for someone before they buy a gun to prove they don't have mental illness, but what happens if the mental illness happens after you buy the gun?" asked Krupicka. "If you can't buy a gun when you have a mental illness, why is it that you can continue to possess one if you get it later?"

Challenging the Record

Democrats feel pretty confident that they will be able to win the lieutenant governor's race against conservative black evangelist E.W. Jackson, who has compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan and called gays sexually twisted. But the other down-ballot race is more vexing.

Democrats have not been able to win an election for attorney general since Del. Mary Sue Terry (D-10) beat Republican candidate W.R. O'Brien, a former University of Richmond football star who represented Virginia Beach in the House of Delegates. This year the race for attorney general features state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26) versus state Sen. Mark Herring (D-33). Will Democrats be able to break the losing streak of the past six election cycles?

"Herring has been able to win in Loudoun County, which is a real swing area," said state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30). "And the voting record of his opponent is not something that's in the mainstream of Virginia."

As an example, Ebbin cited Obenshain's bill that would have required women to report miscarriages to authorities within 24 hours. He also said Democrats would challenge the Republican's opposition to funding for Planned Parenthood and opposition for Medicaid expansion.

"Mark Herring has also worked hard for rail to Dulles," said Ebbin. "That's pretty popular in Northern Virginia."