At oyster festival, underdog Cuccinelli searches for pearls of good news

November 2, 2013

Amid a sea of polls and fundraising tallies showing him behind in the Virginia’s governor’s race, Ken Cuccinelli II went looking for a pearl of good news Friday night, and he appeared to find it at the Urbanna Oyster Festival.

Swamped on the airwaves by better-funded foe Terry McAuliffe (D), Cuccinelli (R) is relying more than ever on retail politicking in the final weekend of the contest, maintaining a frenetic schedule of events in hopes of personally luring as many voters as possible to the polls Tuesday.

That imperative brought him to the annual parade and party in this Tidewater town along the Rappahannock River, where the attorney general projected determined optimism that the gubernatorial race would break his way. Backers, many of them loosened up by hours of celebrating, seemed to be everywhere, and even the rain stayed away.

“I already voted for you,” one woman told Cuccinelli as she grasped his hand.

“I’m up one to nothing!” he responded.

“I’ve been blocked by the Richmond Times-Dispatch [Web] page fighting for you!” another woman told Cuccinelli excitedly. “Can I get a hug?”

She got one.

Joined by Rep. Rob Wittman (R) and Del. Keith Hodges (R-Urbanna), Cuccinelli strolled past booths offering “killer crab soup,” turkey legs and funnel cake. (Cuccinelli inhaled a corn dog with mustard and sampled a serving of oysters Rockefeller).

Even the polls that Cuccinelli’s campaign touts show him trailing in the race, just not by much. It’s a question of whether you believe the survey that has him losing by two points, or the one that shows him down 15. Cuccinelli obviously prefers the former.

The optimism may be genetic. Cuccinelli’s parents, who have stumped for him around the state, arrived mid-parade, and the elder Ken Cuccinelli made clear where he thought the race stood.

“The other side has all the money, they’re telling all the lies,” Cuccinelli’s father said. “We’re beating them with shoe leather.”

Cuccinelli will soon be aided by some non-family members: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former representative Ron Paul (R-Tex.) will all campaign for him in the coming days. McAuliffe will be joined on the trail by President Obama and Vice President Biden.

“They’re going to help us motivate our folks by bringing the president in,” Cuccinelli assured one group of parade-goers. “Clarity is a good thing.”

Not quite everyone in Urbanna was a supporter. “Cuccinelli, you suck!” a man yelled from the window of a crowded bar.

“Too much beer,” Cuccinelli muttered as he continued walking.

Another man confided in Cuccinelli that he had gotten a mailer from the National Rifle Association telling him to vote for the Republican. “Who’s going to take my guns away? Not him,” the man said, pointing at the attorney general.

Cuccinelli heard more than once about the Affordable Care Act, which he has long bragged about opposing. Doug McMinn, the owner of the soon-to-open Chesapeake Bay Oyster Co., told Cuccinelli he needed the Republican to win for that reason.

“The health care thing is going to affect my company and my employees,” McMinn said, explaining that his insurance company had told him his premiums would increase by more than 40 percent.

Conversely, polls have suggested Cuccinelli was hurt by the 16-day partial federal government shutdown, as the Republican brand and the tea-party movement — closely identified with Cuccinelli — have been bleeding popularity.

But Cuccinelli claimed to have heard little about the shutdown on the campaign trail.

“Not much, not anymore,” he said in an interview at the end of the parade route. “The only people who ask about that are press people. . . . I haven’t had a voter ask me about that since the beginning of the week.”

Asked whether he was “catching fire too late” in the contest, Cuccinelli said: “I don’t know. We’ll know in four days. But Virginia races break late. . . . And it’s moving fast our way. You get to this point, and the polls actually become useless.”

From there he went into a packed beer garden, where a band played the Journey anthem “Faithfully,” to find more votes.

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