BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - -

-Republican Ken Cuccinelli is defending the rights of gun owners during his debate with Democrat Terry McAuliffe, saying tougher laws would not have prevented the massacre on Virginia Tech's campus that left 33 dead.

McAuliffe has seen his lead grow over Cuccinelli in polls. He said Thursday that government has a role in keeping people safe and tougher laws like expanded background checks could help. McAuliffe says, quote, "some people should not own guns."

The candidates met with less than two weeks before Nov. 5's election that could be a test whether a deeply conservative candidate like Cuccinelli can win statewide. They traded criticism over the economy, education and their records.

But the specter of the 2007 massacre on this campus was an early instance where Cuccinelli and McAuliffe split.

This debate might have produced fewer fireworks but more substance than some of the previous debates. But in the end it might be best remembered for the candidates' references to unicorns and puppies.

Virginia Tech Professor and WDBJ7 Political Analyst Dr. Bob Denton says there was no game changer Thursday night.
He says both candidates were winners because they did what they had to do. Neither committed a major gaffe, and each stayed on point as they talked to their core constituencies.

Each candidate got 1 minute, 30 seconds to answer questions. The other candidate then got 60 seconds for a rebuttal.

Some members of the audience felt the two strayed away from answering questions about bipartisanship.

They say the candidates spent more time targeting each other as to why the other would not be as effective on one topic or issue.

"I do not believe there was a clear winner tonight,” student Ben Weckstein said. “I believe both candidates had their strengths and weaknesses. I was not swayed more toward one or the other after tonight's debate."

COVERAGE OF THE VIRGINIA GOVERNOR'S DEBATE AT VIRGINIA TECH