Two prominent northern Virginia business leaders got into a heated exchange with Virginia Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli in front of a few hundred top GOP donors at a closed-door meeting Friday, multiple sources told POLITICO.
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. The event was meant to showcase Cuccinelli as one of two Republican gubernatorial candidates this year.
Kilberg, who is close with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, spoke first and noted that the state has become “purple.” She pointed out that McDonnell has sought to govern in the mainstream. But then she wondered aloud if Cuccinelli’s crusading brand fits Virginia’s present political and demographic reality.
Shapiro spoke up next and was even tougher on Cuccinelli. As a hushed room looked on, 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.
Cuccinelli fiercely defended himself, noting his accomplishments and election as a state senator from Fairfax County and as attorney general in 2009.
In a weekend interview with POLITICO, however, Shapiro expressed deep reservations about Cuccinelli and said he feared hard-core social conservative policies would make Virginia less attractive for business.
“I’ve told Cuccinelli I would not support him,” said Shapiro, an independent who supported Mitt Romney last year and has criticized Cuccinelli in a Washington Post op-ed. “Virginia’s incredible tilt rightward, thanks to a lot of Cuccinelli initiatives, has not been helpful at promoting Virginia as a diverse, pro-business state.”
With Cuccinelli as the national party’s most prominent off-year candidate, Shapiro said he was concerned about “how the United States views Republicans in 2013.”
In an interview Sunday, McDonnell declined to criticize his would-be GOP successor but said he had heard about the fireworks Friday at the RGA session.
“It’s a diverse party,” he said.