Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli II spent their final day on the campaign trail before polls open across Virginia making virtually the same argument: that the governor’s race offers a stark choice with grave consequences for the future.
McAuliffe sought to hold onto a lead reflected in all recent polls, appearing with Vice President Biden in Fairfax County and urging Democrats to do what many Virginians skip in off-year elections: vote. Cuccinelli joined conservative stars Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former representative Ron Paul of Texas in a final push to motivate his base by tying McAuliffe to President Obama and the Affordable Care Act.
Biden told Democrats gathered in Annandale that McAuliffe would beat back a tea party movement that “is antithetical to everything this great state has been known for throughout its history.”
Rubio urged Republicans at a pair of rallies to back Cuccinelli and send this message: “We don’t want Obamacare. We don’t want more big government.”
Tuesday’s election was expected to be widely watched as a window into Virginia’s continuing political evolution into a hotly contested swing state. While Obama won the state in both 2008 and 2012, the state’s congressional delegation, governor’s office and House of Delegates are controlled by Republicans.
In off-years such as this one, Democrats typically struggle to turn out some of the voters who helped push Obama to victory, notably young and nonwhite residents. Biden’s appearance, less than 24 hours before polls were set to open and one day after Obama headlined another rally in nearby Arlington County, was a direct effort to change that pattern. Their combined firepower also signifies the importance that national Democrats are putting on the race as a test of the party’s message ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
A crowd of roughly 300 Democrats waited in sub-40-degree weather in the back yard of Alex Rodriguez, an Annandale businessman and party activist, to hear Biden and McAuliffe before heading out to knock on doors across Northern Virginia.
“This is a choice between the mainstream and the extreme,” Biden said, echoing Obama’s rhetoric from Sunday. “That’s what this race is about.”
Forty miles west, Rubio told the few hundred people gathered in the Stoneridge Events Center in Warrenton that Tuesday’s election is the first chance for voters to issue a referendum on the new health-care law.
“This race — not just for governor, but right down the ballot — gives you an opportunity to choose between two very different visions about how we can make Virginia and America a place where anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything,” Rubio said. “Now, what do they stand for? What do the Democrats in this race stand for? They stand for the same failed policies that have never worked anywhere they’ve ever been tried and won’t work here.”
By the time Cuccinelli reached the Warrenton reception hall, his voice was starting to go hoarse as he again gave a speech that ridiculed the health-care law and urged the crowd to knock on doors and ask their friends, neighbors and co-workers to vote Tuesday. But the jokes he had made before — suggesting that he might change the rules for daylight saving time and making fun of the government’s attempts to build functioning health-care Web sites — still incited roars of laughter and applause.
Later Monday, several hundred people gathered in a spacious hall at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for Cuccinelli’s final election-eve rally with Ron Paul and his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky).
“Bigger government leads you to Terry McAuliffe’s position, and limited government leads you to Ken Cuccinelli’s position,” Cuccinelli told the group.
Cuccinelli also took a dig at McAuliffe’s upstate New York accent, saying that McAuliffe keeps promising to create jobs -- or “jabs,” as Cuccinelli pronounced it -- without having a real plan to drive the economy. Then, as his wife Teiro joined him onstage cuddling a puppy, Cuccinelli repeated a line he used at their last debate on Oct. 24: “Terry McAuliffe is all puppies and no plans.”
Ron Paul, speaking at an almost breathless clip, whipped through a hit parade of libertarian issues: criticizing the Federal Reserve, the 16th Amendment that allowed the federal government to collect income tax and discussing the 17th Amendment as a basis for nullification of federal decrees such as Obamacare. He also cited widespread domestic and foreign spying by the National Security Agency as evidence of a federal government that is out of control.
Several of the Republican candidates and representatives who spoke Monday tried to appeal to minority voters. Rubio gave a short address in Spanish. And E.W. Jackson, the Chesapeake minister who is running for lieutenant governor and doesn’t often attend events with Cuccinelli, said that Republican candidates have been misrepresented in the media.
“We want to serve every Virginian, no matter the color of their skin,” Jackson said, as about a dozen “Jackson” signs waved in the crowd. “We’ve been reaching out to those black Virginians, Hispanic Virginians, Asian Virginians, Indian Virginians and telling them: You’ve been lied to. You’ve been told we don’t care about you. There’s a difference between us and them. For them, you are pawns on their political chessboard.”
Lillian Reed, 69, attended the rally with her husband, both dressed in shirts that featured the Constitution and red, white and blue hats. “That was awesome,” Reed, who lives in Warrenton, said as the event ended. “He’s a constitutionalist. He’s a family man. He’s going to send a message to this country. . . . I’m just praying that America wakes up.”
In Culpeper, Cuccinelli told a crowd of several hundred people that the race is close and could be won by just a few hundred votes. He pointed out that in his previous four races — three for the state’s General Assembly and one for attorney general — he has been outspent by his opponent and still won.
“If we win tomorrow by a small number of votes, I’m okay with that,” Cuccinelli said Monday.
After Annandale, McAuliffe traveled to a shopping center in suburban Richmond to rally supporters at a campaign office. Accompanied by two former Democratic governors — Sens. Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine — McAuliffe said he would work across party lines but also indicated he would not compromise on abortion rights.
“I will be a brick wall,” he said. “I trust women to make their own decisions on their own personal health choices. I will be a brick wall on those issues.”
Warner revved up the crowd with, “You all ready to win?”
Kaine noted that he and Warner would have to head to Washington right after the event so they could vote on a measure to protect gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination.
“It is good to stand together with a ticket that I can support with the complete knowledge that they view that — equality, fairness, the right treatment of people, anti-discrimination — as a core value not only personally, but a core value of what the commonwealth of Virginia stands for,” Kaine said, giving a nod to the other statewide Democratic candidates present, state Sen. Ralph S. Northam of Norfolk, who is running for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. Mark R. Herring of Loudoun, who is running for attorney general.
The last day before polls open began with the release of what will likely be the final independent survey of the race.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows McAuliffe at 46 percent, Cuccinelli at 40 percent and Libertarian Robert Sarvis at 8 percent among likely voters.
The previous Quinnipiac survey of the race, released last week, showed McAuliffe ahead by 4 points, leading Cuccinelli and his allies to argue that the race was tightening. But other polls have shown larger leads — the last Washington Post poll had McAuliffe ahead 12 points — and the vast majority of surveys taken in the past couple of months have put the Democrat ahead between 5 and 9 points.
As in other polls, McAuliffe enjoys a significant lead among women — 14 points — while Cuccinelli’s popularity numbers are upside down: The Republican has a 38 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable rating. McAuliffe’s score is 42-45.
Laura Vozzella in Richmond contributed to this report.