Republican candidates for statewide office in Virginia want nothing to do with Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan to fund much-needed roadwork, despite their leader's popularity heading into critical elections.
McDonnell's plan to generate $3 billion for transportation by eliminating the gas tax and raising the sales tax passed the House last week, but without support from Del. Rob Bell, a Charlottesville Republican running for attorney general, and Del. Scott Lingamfelter, a lieutenant governor candidate from Woodbridge.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is vying to replace McDonnell as governor, backed another plan, dubbed the conservative alternative, which kept the sales tax at 5 percent and instead indexed the gas tax to inflation.
Sens. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, both voted for the Cuccinelli-backed alternative. Obenshain is running against Bell for attorney general while Martin is one of seven Republicans running for lieutenant governor.
Outside Richmond, lieutenant governor candidates Pete Snyder, a businessman, and Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart are against McDonnell's transportation plan, too. Snyder called it a tax hike. "It's a terrible bill," Stewart said. "It weakens our brand and fundamentally it doesn't even solve the problem."
The lack of support for what would be McDonnell's signature legislative legacy demonstrates a party that is beginning to leave the Republican governor behind at a time when he remains an extremely popular figure.
Most Democrats have come out against McDonnell's transportation plan, as well -- except presumptive gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe. The former Democratic National Committee chairman has not taken a stance, instead allowing factions in the GOP to wage war over the proposal.
"If you're Terry, you're saying, 'What did I do to deserve this?' " said former state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman. "You definitely have to believe in God."