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Opposing counsel

"Opposing counsel" Continued...

Issue: "After the revolution," Feb. 26, 2011

Inside Saint Paul's Episcopal Church at Capitol Square, a place where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a member during the Civil War, it didn't take long for Cuccinelli to explain the present by delving into the past: "The king of Great Britain that we rebelled against acknowledged that he didn't have the authority to make the colonists buy British goods," he lectured the students. "But our president and the last Congress think they can. The power of the federal government after the American Revolution and the Constitution was less in all respects than the British Parliament. Otherwise, why rebel?"

Cuccinelli's conviction in these principles began during his own high-school days while attending a private Jesuit school in Washington, D.C. There lots of reading gave him clear ideas of what government should and shouldn't do. (He didn't only study: Cuccinelli, who says he has "a whacky side," spent time in costume as the school's eagle mascot. Nowadays he hosts annual fundraisers at a paintball course, and his "Don't Tread on Me" baseball cap sports numerous paintball stains.)

At the University of Virginia, the attorney general seemed to reject a career in politics by becoming an engineering major. But he served on the university's judiciary committee for three years. The experience of helping to govern the students led him to law school.

As a lawyer Cuccinelli worked pro bono on hundreds of mental healthcare cases. Still he nourished his passion for politics: volunteering to put up signs during elections, collecting inch-thick files on topics like school choice, and developing his recruiting pitch. Soon he became the Republican membership chair for his Northern Virginia county. But he always assumed that would be as far as he would go politically.

His wife, Teiro, had bad memories of the time her mother ran for a county board seat, and her disdain for politics made Cuccinelli reluctant to discuss the topic.

Then one night in April 1999, Cuccinelli came home from work late.

"Guess what I did at the grocery store today?" Teiro asked. "I signed somebody's petition to run for office."

Taken aback, Cuccinelli asked her for the name of the candidate. When she responded, Cuccinelli exploded: "He is pro-tax. He breaks his word. He backstabs pro-lifers!" he recalls ranting.

Then out of the blue Teiro said: "Well, why don't you run against him?"

After Cuccinelli overcame his shock, he did some research and found that the deadline to file a petition to enter the race had passed just four hours earlier. "I missed that. But I started planning for the next race."

Having paid his dues as a recruiter gave Cuccinelli a wealth of local contacts. Those relationships, his pro-life position, and a lot of miles on a 20-year-old Isuzu Pup to plant signs all over the county helped him eke out a GOP primary win in August 2002 by a mere 104 votes. In the general election Cuccinelli won again, despite being outspent by more than 2-to-1. At 34, he became a freshman state senator. Serving for eight years, he would go on to win even closer races-gaining reelection in 2007 by a margin of just 98 votes out of 37,000 cast.

Despite tight elections, Cuccinelli did not apologize for being a conservative Republican from traditionally liberal Northern Virginia. In the Senate he quickly bemoaned the fact that many of his fellow Republicans seemed to favor big government aggressively. He became known for the many 39-to-1 votes in which he was the lone dissenter. His personal favorite: trying to remove $100,000 earmarked for the budget committee chairman's district and replacing it with $100,000 for the brain injury foundation.

"It is more tiring to fight with the people who are supposed to be on your team than it is to fight with people who are supposed to be your opponents," he said. "But by the end, I was giving as good as I got. I don't mind knife fights. As long as the knives come from the front."

When he ran for attorney general in 2009, newspapers like the Virginian-Pilot bashed his conservative morality, warning that he would be an "embarrassment" to the state if elected. But he won by a sizeable 18 percentage points in November 2009-one of the early indicators of the larger conservative victory to come one year later.

"I recognize that the founders built this nation on the foundation of natural law," Cuccinelli said when talking about his conservative crusades. "The Founding Fathers would have never believed that you would debate abortion or that you would debate marriage."

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