Leading in the polls since the partial federal government shutdown, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe hit opponent Ken Cuccinelli over social issues like abortion and gay rights while Cuccinelli fought back, linking McAuliffe to Obamacare and its rocky roll-out, asking "Why would we expand failure?"
Issues discussed ranged from gun control to bipartisan compromise in the wake of Washington's shutdown showdown. Though the attacks varied little from previous debates, the candidates hit the ground running, first decrying their opponent's respective financial plans for the Commonwealth.
"His plan is a fiscal disaster for the commonwealth of Virginia," McAuliffe said at the beginning on the hour-long debate hosted on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.
"His plan is like believing he came here on a unicorn tonight," he said pointing to what McAuliffe called "fiscally irresponsible" tax cuts.
"He's been very clear that he doesn't like my plan," Cuccinelli shot back. "I like puppies, but I don't bring a puppy home if I don't have a plan for how I'm going to deal with that puppy."
"He's all puppy and no plan."
McAuliffe reiterated his stance on gun control, pointing to a pin on his jacket honoring victims of 2007's Virginia Tech mass shooting.
"I don't care what grade I got from the NRA. As governor I want to make sure our communities are safe" he said, pushing for universal background checks and against arming teachers and administrators in schools.
Cuccinelli also mentioned the Virginia Tech tragedy calling himself a strong advocate for enforcing the current gun laws while touting his "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.
Both candidates pointed to job creation when asked what their one signature accomplishment of four years as governor would be. Cuccinelli said his plan to create jobs would result in 58,000 new jobs. McAuliffe stressed the need to diversify the economy.
Going into the debate, recent polls showed McAuliffe, a businessman and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, leading Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general and former state senator, by single digits.
The Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed McAuliffe with a 46%-39% advantage over Cuccinelli.
Candidates on both sides have negative favorability ratings in recent polls, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board declined to throw its support behind either candidate, withholding an endorsement on Sunday.
Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis was not allow to participate in the debate, though the same Quinnipiac poll showed the third party candidate pulling in 10% of likely voters. Sarvis' solid standing reflects possible discontent with both mainstream candidates. Sarvis participated in the debate via Twitter.
McAuliffe has gotten some big-name help in the race including Hillary Clinton last Saturday and, starting Sunday, Bill Clinton.
Outside interest groups have poured millions into the race, fueling negative attack ads from both sides of the campaign.
Virginia's race is one of only two governor's races this year. The election will be held on November 5. The winner of the election will succeed outgoing GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Following the debate, both candidates had to navigate the Daily Show being on hand- press officials doing their best to avoid their candidate interacting with Daily Show.
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