Before serving as the state's top lawyer, Cuccinelli served in the Virginia General Assembly. His district was in Northern Virginia, known for being more liberal than the southern portion of the state, something supporters use to show he is capable of crossover appeal.
But despite Cuccinelli's supporters' optimism, some top national Republican money men are worried his reputation and apparent plan to run as an unabashed conservative could undo his campaign.
"Cuccinelli's election is so important for conservatives on so many different levels – he is so closely identified with the Tea Party movement that for Tea Party-type conservative Republicans, if Cuccinelli loses, it's huge," says one Republican consultant familiar with both Christie and Cuccinelli's campaigns. "It's not the death knell for the Tea Party, but it's probably not far off because he is so closely associated with that."
Outside money groups say they are planning to fundraise and play in Virginia on Cuccinelli's behalf, but haven't made the same commitment yet to Christie because it's not clear he needs the help.
Some D.C. Republicans disagree, however. They say neither Cuccinelli nor Christie is out-of-step with the party and that local politics and national ambitions make the races a poor representation of the struggle facing the party nationally.
"In both instances it seems to me, you have two candidates who are not well outside of the mainstream," says a former Republican National Party official who worked on the Romney campaign. "This isn't a Michele Bachmann-esque candidacy that's trying to tap into the anger that exists on the far right and neither of them is emerging from a contentious primary battle where you have that."
Larry Sabato, a well-known political prognosticator who runs the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, says there's no law that says political parties have to win – but if the party wants to broaden its appeal, it has to be honest about what electoral results tell them.
"If the Republican base across the country today had to pick their favorite gubernatorial candidate and the two choices were Chris Christie and Ken Cuccinelli, which one do you think would win?" he asks. "Cuccinelli in a landslide. There it is. There's the problem. Except the real problem is, they don't see it as a problem."
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