Lynchburg, Va. — Before her husband warned the crowd that Obamacare could lead to waiting lists for surgeries and before her oldest son deplored the president for bossing around state governments, Michelle Duggar shared some parenting advice with the hundreds of local moms and mostly female Liberty University students gathered in a school parking lot.
“As I train my kiddos, I tell them, we are going to be involved. We are going to make a difference for the cause of Christ,” said Duggar, the 47-year-old Arkansas mother of 19 children who has gained a dedicated following through the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting.” “And that is to stand for the values that God holds dear. . . . And we need to get behind those candidates that believe those values and help them to win.”
One such candidate, Duggar said, is Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican who is running for governor and is lagging in the polls. His photo was plastered on the side of a bus that carried the Duggar family — well, most of it — during a five-stop, three-day tour of the state this week.
The tour, sponsored by the Family Research Council’s political arm, started in Lynchburg and ended in Woodbridge in Prince William County, with stops in Richmond, Virginia Beach and Fredericksburg. The family spoke passionately about faith, family and freedom — plus abortion, education, health care, birth control and home schooling. The kids played religious tunes on violins and cellos and bowed their heads in prayer.
After each program, a swarm of women surrounded Michelle Duggar.
“She’s such a great role model,” said Stephanie Wallace, 26, who home-schools her three young children in Norfolk. “You have so many celebrities that will campaign for the liberal side, but not as many on the conservative side.”
This is just the sort of crowd that the Cuccinelli campaign wants to motivate to vote in less than three weeks — especially because Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe holds a sizable lead among women voters, according to recent polls. But the Duggars’ views on social issues are controversial and could alienate moderate voters.
The Cuccinelli campaign has said it did not invite the Duggars to Virginia. But Cuccinelli visited the family privately in Richmond on Tuesday, and his wife spoke during the family’s final stop Wednesday afternoon.
“This election is not going to be won on television,” said Tiero Cuccinelli, standing in the parking lot of Heritage Baptist Church in Woodbridge and encouraging the crowd of a few hundred to do their own research about her husband and his positions instead of listening to commercials. “That’s what I’m praying for, the truth will be revealed and the lies will be exposed.”
McAuliffe’s campaign blasted Cucinelli this week for associating himself with Jim Bob Duggar — the patriarch of the family — who compared abortions to the Holocaust during a speech in the District last weekend.
“Ken Cuccinelli needs to immediately ask his surrogate to leave Virginia,” McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said. “Mr. Duggar’s divisive, hurtful and extreme rhetoric has no place in this campaign for governor.”
This isn’t the first time the Duggar parents have decried a “baby Holocaust,” although this week they usually used the term “mass deaths” instead. Jim Bob Duggar stood by his comments, and he added that McAuliffe is the one who should leave the state.
The Duggars’ firm opposition to abortion is shared by many of their fans. As the family visited two religious universities, the state capital and two churches, Virginian after Virginian said candidates’ views on abortion usually determine their votes.
“The big thing is abortion, that’s the big thing for us,” said Teresa Lafferty of Jetersville, who brought her 14 children, ages 8 weeks to 21 years, to Richmond to meet the Duggars.
The crowds ranged from several dozen to several hundred and were usually overwhelmingly women. Activists worked the audiences, handing out “Women for Ken” stickers and posters.
“There’s a lot of us, contrary to popular belief,” said Leslie Blackwell, Richmond field director for Women Speak Out Virginia. “There’s a real groundswell of people out there who stand for values and for God.”
The Duggars’ views have been well established in more than 200 episodes of their reality show. And that means many of their fans trust their endorsements.
“I completely agree with what they’re standing for, so if they’re behind someone, then he must be a godly person who will change things,” said Katie King, 23, a Liberty University senior from Roanoke who is studying family and child development.
The Duggars were joined on the road by antiabortion activists and by the Rev. E.W. Jackson, the fiery Chesapeake pastor who is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor and whose “liberty agenda” has alarmed some members of his own party.
At one point, Jackson, leading a prayer in a Richmond conference room, said: “Lord help us to continue to convey, even though the media will never give us credit for it, our love for every citizen, our concern for every citizen — whether they agree with us or not, whether they think we are bigots and haters and extremists. Our concern is for them and for their future.”
Again and again, the Duggars told voters that this race is one of the most important in history and will set the tone for elections to come in other states. They urged their fans to drive neighbors to the polls, promote the candidates on social media and call 100 of the friends to tell them about Cuccinelli.
“We women, we enjoy communicating and talking to those who are dear to us,” Michelle Duggar said, standing Wednesday morning at the altar of Fredericksburg’s Calvary Christian Church. “Every vote counts.”
Her husband told the churchgoers not to be discouraged by recent polls that show McAuliffe ahead of Cuccinelli. “This is a close race, but the pro-life people are going to be the people that are excited to get out and vote,” he said. “Can you imagine a Democrat being excited about getting to vote for Terry McAuliffe? I’ve heard a lot of them say they’re not going to vote, they’re just going to stay home. If we can get 10 percent more people to get out and vote . . . then we’ve won the race.”