A Tale of Two Turncoats: WashPost Hyped GOP Strategist's Support for Terry McAuliffe, Downplayed Dem's for Cuccinelli

As the Virginia governor's race heats up in the Washington Post's backyard, the liberal broadsheet is doing its best to skew coverage in a favorable manner for liberal Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former DNC chief and longtime friend of the Clintons.

An excellent contrast that illustrate's the paper's bias is how it has handled the back-to-back defections of Republican strategist Boyd Marcus and Democratic activist David "Mudcat" Saunders. The former is backing McAuliffe and the latter is endorsing Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The Post devoted stories to both men's decisions to buck the party line, but staff writer Laura Vozzella had a considerably longer piece on the front page of Metro which painted Marcus's move as a harbinger of a deeper GOP party split. [RELATED: check out my colleague Rich Noyes's study on Virginia newspapers slanting towards McAuliffe]


"GOP strategist joins McAuliffe campaign GOP strategist Boyd Marcus join McAuliffe campaign," blared the September 9 Metro section front-pager. "The defection of Boyd Marcus stuns Republicans in Virginia," added a subheadline. In the 1,047-word story which followed, Vozzella sought to make a larger party-rift story out of Marcus's decision to collect a paycheck from McAuliffe:

RICHMOND - Boyd Marcus grew up in a Leesburg home where politics wasn't much discussed, but he asked his dad in 1960 which way he was voting: Nixon or Kennedy?

Nixon, his dad said, so 8-year-old Boyd concluded that his was a Republican household.

Only years later - after throwing himself into his college GOP club - did Marcus discover that his father didn't consider himself a Republican at all, but a "Byrd Democrat," an Old Dominion brand that liked Republicans for president but Democrats for everything else.

"I was startled to find out my father wasn't as Republican as I thought," Marcus said.

Now 61 and one of Virginia's best-known GOP strategists, Marcus gave his own shock to political observers last month by endorsing and going to work for Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman running for governor.

The defection of the veteran GOP strategist - adviser to former governors James S. Gilmore III and George Allen, among many others over the past 30 years - left Republicans stunned and, in some cases, enraged.

Democrats and even some Republicans see Marcus's move as emblematic of a deep rift within the party: Marcus had been aligned with pragmatic establishment figures and repelled by the resolute tea party style embraced by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican nominee.

"I've never known him to work for a Democrat, but it's a different dynamic out there this year," said state Sen. Emmett W. Hanger (R-Augusta), a social conservative and fiscal moderate who supports Cuccinelli but also pines for a more compromising GOP. "We're in a different time for the Republican Party."

Said Gilmore, who also backs Cuccinelli: "It's clear to me that Boyd does not think that the direction of the party is what he would like to see it be."

Like Marcus, David "Mudcat" Saunders, a longtime Democratic operative, is backing Ken Cuccinelli. Unlike Marcus, however, Saunders refuses to work for Cuccinelli's campaign. He's too loyal a Democrat for that, but, as a friend of Cuccinelli's, an economic moderate, and a blue-collar Democrat who is pro-coal industry, he can't back McAuliffe.

Vozzella's colleague Fredrick Kunkle has the story in the September 10 Metro section, on page B2. His 606-word story is headlined "Democratic adviser backs Cuccinelli: David Saunders says McAuliffe too allied with business, politics." Here's a taste of his article:

Veteran Democratic strategist backing Cuccinelli Veteran Democratic strategist backing Cuccinelli

David "Mudcat" Saunders says Terry McAuliffe is too much a product of big business and politics.

David "Mudcat" Saunders, a veteran Democratic Party strategist, said Monday that he is backing Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) in the Virginia governor's race over Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe because of economic justice issues.

Saunders said he disagrees with Cuccinelli's stance on social issues but prefers him over McAuliffe because McAuliffe is too much a product of big business and politics.

"I'm a friend of Ken Cuccinelli's and I hope he wins," Saunders said. "I'm a Democrat, and not a corporatist. I don't support corporatist candidates."

Saunders laughed off a question about whether he would make a formal endorsement of Cuccinelli - "I don't think anybody cares who I endorse" - and said they argue about Cuccinelli's views on abortion and gay rights.

But Saunders, who has specialized in helping Democrats reach independent and moderate voters in rural and suburban areas, said he hopes Cuccinelli wins because of his views of economic fairness.

"People want to know why all these big business people are jumping behind McAuliffe. It's not because of social issues; it's because of economic fairness," Saunders said in a telephone interview.

Saunders, who often referred to Cuccinelli by his nickname, "Cooch," also said he thinks Cuccinelli's ethical record is stronger than McAuliffe's.

"Because I'm not blind, and I see a guy who's got rich because of his political contacts, and I think that's wrong," Saunders said. "I've known Cooch, and Cooch is not a crook. If he was, he wouldn't be broke. A moron can figure that one out."

Saunders, who lives outside Roanoke, said he might rethink his support if McAuliffe released eight years of his tax returns, as Cuccinelli has done.

Saunders is pretty clear he disagrees strongly with Cuccinelli on social issues but thinks he's a better candidate for governor on economic policy, particularly as regards the concerns of blue-collar Virginians in coal country:

Saunders said there's no way he would take money from Cuccinelli's campaign if he decided to go further in helping them. Saunders, who identified himself as a Jacksonian Democrat, also said there are plenty of other disaffected Democrats like him, particularly in Southwest Virginia, where people who depend on the coal industry feel left behind by the Democratic Party's focus on environmental issues.

"Once my party starts caring for the people at the bottom of the mountain as much as they care for the trees at the top of the mountain, I'll join the conversation. That's the deal with Cooch. Cooch deals with the people at the bottom of the mountain," Saunders said.

By contrast, in Vozzella's Monday article, it seems that Marcus is motivated by only ONE social issue on which he's moved to the left of Cuccinelli -- same-sex marriage:

Even after jumping over to team McAuliffe, Marcus described himself this way: "I'm a conservative Republican."

"Five or 10 years ago, I was very comfortable saying only a small group in the party was more conservative than I was," Marcus said. But in the years since, Republican newcomers have lined up to his right.

Marcus has moved to the left in one area, gay rights, prompted by a longtime friend's coming out.

"I was best man at a gay wedding last year, and 10 years ago I couldn't have imagined that," he said.

Aside from that, Marcus said he's still the same low-tax, small-government, "pretty pro-life" prince that Democratic insiders loved to hate. Which has made his leap to the McAuliffe camp especially puzzling, even to Republican moderates who might seem to be easier pickings for McAuliffe.

Not so puzzling, perhaps, when there's a paycheck and praise by the liberal media on the line.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters