By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, running against each other for the Virginia governership, attacked each other on Saturday in their first debate, but both agreed the current governor should consider resigning over a gifts scandal.
Cuccinelli, currently attorney general of Virginia, called his opponent self-serving and McCauliffe fired back that the Republican was intolerant of gays and too socially conservative.
Both candidates agreed on one thing though - that current Virgnia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, should consider resigning, as questions mount about gifts that McDonnell has acknowledged were given to his family by a business executive.
Cuccinelli said that in his position as attorney general he began a state investigation of McDonnell and that as a result could not actually call for the governor's resignation.
"I think while that question is appropriate to ask Governor McDonnell and it's appropriate to ask him to think about that (resigning), I don't think it's appropriate for the sitting attorney general to address it when I started one of the investigations," he said.
McCauliffe said "only governor McDonnell knows the facts" and added: "I don't think I should call for his resignation." However, the Democrat also said: "I would agree with the attorney general he should consider it."
While the question about whether the governor should considering resigning from moderator Judy Woodruff of the Public Broadcasting Service stirred the audience, the candidates spent most of their 90-minute debate attacking each other.
Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general, labeled McAuliffe, a former national Democratic Party chairman, as a Washington insider focused on his own self-interests.
"Instead of putting Virginians first, you put Terry first," Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe responded that Cuccinelli's social views opposing abortion and same-sex marriage would not help make Virginia more friendly to business.
He charged that Cuccinelli had once referred to gays as "soulless human beings," and that his opponent was "the true Trojan horse of Virginia politics."
The debate, sponsored by the Virginia State Bar, was held at the plush Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia.
The Washington Post has reported that Jonnie Williams Sr., chief executive of Star Scientific Inc dietary supplement company, paid for $15,000 in catering services at the 2011 wedding of Governor McDonnell's daughter, $15,000 in clothing for the governor's wife during a New York shopping trip and a $6,000 Rolex watch that the governor's wife gave to her husband.
McDonnell has said he did not disclose the gifts in state disclosure filings because Virginia state law does not require state public officials to account for gifts to family members.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and David Brunnstrom)