RICHMOND -- Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli officially accepted the Republican nomination for governor Saturday and immediately questioned whether his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, had the credentials needed to handle the state's top job.

Thousands of diehard conservatives gathered at the state party's convention in the state capital to hear from their new party leader and elect the rest of their ticket. State Sen. Mark Obenshain, of Harrisonburg, was nominated for attorney general, defeating Del. Rob Bell of Charlottesville.

But delegates had to go to extra ballots to choose their lieutenant governor from among seven contenders late Saturday after none won the first round of voting.

Cuccinelli, who was unopposed, did his part to rally the base with plenty of red meat and repeated shots at McAuliffe.

"I'm running for governor because I'm well suited to fight and achieve [conservative] priorities," said Cuccinelli, challenging his opponent to 17 debates. "And I'm the only one who won't need on-the-job training."

While Cuccinelli focused his early campaign on jobs and the economy instead of social issues, he reaffirmed his pro-life beliefs in promising to protect "the elderly from abuse as well as the unborn."

That played into the hands of Democrats, who staged a rally with Planned Parenthood outside the convention center with about 40 protesters.

"We want voters to know that Ken Cuccinelli has an extreme record when it comes to women's reproductive health," said state Democratic Party Chairwoman Charniele Herring. "His choice as governor is a dangerous choice for Virginia women."

But Cuccinelli had an answer for that, too.

"When did it become extreme to protect children from predators and human traffickers?" he asked. "When did it become extreme to guard our Constitution from government overreach?"

Inside the convention hall, the delegates supporting Cuccinelli far outnumbered his detractors on the outside, and they were clearly enthusiastic about the prospects of Republicans holding on to the governor's mansion for another four years.

Cuccinelli was cheered wildly for his jabs at President Obama's health care reforms and Cuccinelli's plan to expand school choice. And the crowd erupted when he joked about the White House's ongoing scandal over the IRS targeting of conservative groups, quipping that he must not be too conservative "because I haven't been audited by the IRS."

Though the gathering in Richmond filled most of the convention center, it was a relatively limited number of the Republicans across the state that the conservative candidate must win over. Over 2 million votes were cast in the 2009 governor's race.

Cuccinelli will move on from the convention hoping to convince moderate and independent voters. It'll start Sunday with a flight around the state with his new ticket.

"In the months ahead, the people of Virginia will have a clear choice to make between two very different visions of our future," Cuccinelli said, "and it's a debate that everyone should see."