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Democratic strategist Saunders backs Cuccinelli

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Democratic strategist Saunders backs Cuccinelli

Dave “Mudcat” Saunderssays he is not working for the GOP’s Ken Cuccinelli.

Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a veteran smash-mouth Democratic strategist, says he is supporting Republican Ken Cuccinelli for governor, branding Democrat Terry McAuliffe a “corporatist.”

“What these corporatists have done to us in rural America and in urban America …” Saunders said in a telephone interview. “I can’t support a corporatist. I just can’t. This guy is not my kind of Democrat.”

The move is the latest twist in Virginia’s down-the-rabbit-hole election. Last month, McAuliffe announced that he had hired M. Boyd Marcus, a political strategist who has advised Republican campaigns in Virginia for more than 30 years.

“I’m not on the payroll,” Saunders said Monday. “No, I’m not Boyd Marcus. I’m a Democrat.”

But the move, first reported on The Washington Post’s website, “helps to balance Boyd Marcus,” said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Now they each have a major defector in the army of political consultants,” he said, laughing at the absurdity of the election.

Last month, Cuccinelli strategist Chris LaCivita had likened Marcus to Judas, saying on Twitter: “Some people will do anything for 30 pieces of silver.”

On Monday he said in a statement: “Mudcat Saunders has a long history of running successful Democrat races in Virginia and across the country. The attorney general is thrilled by Mudcat’s kind words about his candidacy.

“Especially because these comments are heartfelt and based in his belief that Ken Cuccinelli is the best candidate to fight for the little guy as governor of Virginia. And it didn’t cost us a dime.”

“Terry wishes him well and looks forward to working with Virginians from all sides of the aisle as governor,” said Josh Schwerin, McAuliffe’s spokesman.

Saunders, from the mountains outside Roanoke, is a colorful operative who has urged his party to make a play for the increasingly Republican rural vote.

He was an architect of Mark R. Warner’s rural strategy during his successful campaign for governor in 2001 and an adviser to Jim Webb’s successful U.S. Senate run in 2006. Saunders also advised North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in the run-up to his 2004 presidential campaign.

Last year Saunders was a strategist for Wayne Powell, the Democrat who challenged House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-7th. Among his barbs on Powell’s behalf, Saunders suggested the mock “For Sale” yard signs that featured Cantor’s name.

“I’m a Democrat. I’m a Jacksonian,” Saunders said Monday. “Ken Cuccinelli and I — are we at odds on abortion and gay marriage? Yes we are.

“I just can’t sit here anymore and watch this coin-operated government continue. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I came to Richmond last year and jumped on Eric Cantor for it and then came back and supported Terry McAuliffe?”

McAuliffe’s role in a controversy over an immigrant investor program to finance GreenTech, the Mississippi electric car company he founded, is the latest chapter in the Democrat’s long history of mixing politics with his personal business interests.

Saunders said he and Cuccinelli agree “on matters of economic fairness” and share concerns about the middle class.

“I’ve just got to vote for my people,” rural people and urban people, Saunders said. “Our part of Virginia looks like Sherman went through it and didn’t burn anything. It’s due to these corporatist Washington policies.”

He is not concerned about the effect on his further work with Democrats.

“If I was motivated by money, I’d have some,” he said. “I’m sure I threw a rock in the middle of a bee’s nest, but I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do.”

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

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