The Collegian
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Cuccinelli and McAuliffe to have public discussion with Ayers

This Thursday, Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will come to University of Richmond as part of the Sharp Viewpoint Speaker Series.

University President Ed Ayers will sit down with each candidate separately for 30 minutes and ask questions that have been written and curated by the Richmond Scholars, students who are part of an academic-based scholarship program. One candidate will be on stage at a time speaking with President Ayers, while the other will be sequestered back stage.

"It gives both candidates a chance to make their best case, in the same hour, in front of the same audience," Ayers said. "I really believe that it's a model that other people might follow."

The Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series is an endowed speaker fund established in 2011 in honor of Richard Sharp, the former CEO of Circuit City.

Last year, the first program in the series featured former Virginia governors and candidates for U.S. Senate, George Allen and Tim Kaine. The program followed the same format as Thursday's planned discussion.

"Last year was an experiment and we weren't exactly sure what that would be," Ayers said. "I thought it bred more confidence in both candidates and we'll see if that happens this year. I do believe that they will welcome the chance to do something other than give a speech or have an argument."

Having candidates who are running for statewide office take part in these discussions two consecutive years reflects the stature of the university and Ayers as a moderator and intellectual, Erik Lampmann said. Lampmann is a Richmond Scholar who has helped prepare for this year's discussions with the gubernatorial candidates as well as last year's discussions with the U.S. senate candidates.

"The idea of doing it within the scholar speakers series is to create these intentional, meaningful conversations between students, faculty and staff around these big issues," Lampmann said.

Lampmann worked with Jennifer Cable, director of the Richmond Scholars Program, to prepare the questions for the event. Lampmann created an online form where scholars could propose questions as well as rank political policies to be discussed, he said. He and Cable then synthesized the scholars' questions into a list of about nine questions that were passed on to Ayers, Cable said.

"Based on what we saw last year," Cable said, "the questions didn't allow for much wiggle room. We were able to compare more readily what one person said to what the other person said on the same specific question."

Ayers said that the questions would focus on broad issues and not on the candidates as people.

"I think we've had plenty of opportunity to hear about both men's backgrounds," Ayers said. "I think what people want to know is what they would do going forward."

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Political science professor Ernest McGowen said in recent elections, advertising has had an increased focus on candidates' personalities and a decreased focus on their policy recommendations.

"The American public is making a stronger connection between how you are as a person and how you're going to be as a governor," McGowen said.

On Thursday, Ayers will interview Cuccinelli first and McAuliffe second, based on alphabetical order, Ayers said.

"The only disadvantage that can come for the person going second, Terry McAuliffe, is that all of his answers will be viewed in comparison to Attorney General Cuccinelli's," McGowen said.

In a statement to The Collegian, Cuccinelli said he was looking forward to taking part in the forum with Ayers and the university's students. He said the event would be an important opportunity to discuss his plan for creating 58,000 new jobs and his ideas on ensuring affordable higher education for Virginians.

McAuliffe is also looking forward to sitting down with Ayers and discussing his plans to create jobs in the Commonwealth, he said in a statement to The Collegian. He also plans to discuss his agenda to grow and diversify Virginia's economy, he said.

The event, which is free of charge, will be held in the Alice Jepson Theatre in the Modlin Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Due to a large response from the university and the Richmond community, a second campus location will be reserved to simultaneously broadcast the discussions. Twice as many people as the Alice Jepson Theatre can hold have signed up to attend the event, Cable said. The discussions will also be available to stream from the homepage of the university's website, Cable said.

Contact staff writer Brennan Long at

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