4. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II
Attorney General and Gubernatorial Candidate
His rise was both calculated and cunning. Republican Ken Cuccinelli laid the groundwork last summer when he engineered a switch from an open primary he’d likely lose to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to a convention that he easily won. No matter the outcome of the general election, Cuccinelli has cemented his position as the most powerful force in the state GOP. And the results in November will determine with finality whether the hard-right bent will win elections, or, as moderates such as Bolling are predicting, sink the party. Until then, Cuccinelli comes with some baggage. He’s caught up in the same Star Scientific scandal that’s sent Gov. Bob McDonnell (No. 20) tumbling, although a prosecutor says Cuccinelli did nothing legally wrong, Cucinnelli has bested fellow Republican McDonnell by asking for a special legislative session to explore ethics. The governor, the target of two ethics probes, says to wait for the regular General Assembly session in January, denying Cuccinelli a chance to distance himself from the Star stench before November. Other issues lurk, such as allegations of favoritism in a case involving rights to a natural gas lease. Yet Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe has his own problems with ethics and so far, has built up only a small lead in polls. Cuccinelli still could win.