Democrats have pounded Cuccinelli all week over his plans to appear at a Family Foundation dinner headlined by Cruz, widely considered the architect of the shutdown as a means of defunding the Affordable Care Act. Cuccinelli has said repeatedly that he disagrees with the tactic despite his fierce opposition the federal health-care law known informally as Obamacare.
The impasse in Washington has forced Cuccinelli to walk a fine line: between his longtime tea party supporters, who regard Cruz as a hero, and independent voters in a state with a large federal workforce, who tend to take a dim view of Obamacare but an even dimmer one of the shutdown.
At the same time, the shutdown drama and last week’s glitchy opening of Obamacare enrollment have given Cuccinelli the opportunity to highlight his early opposition to the law. The first attorney general in the nation to file suit against it, Cuccinelli has held a series of roundtable discussions about the law with small-business owners over the past week.
In his remarks at the Family Foundation dinner at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, Cuccinelli spoke generally about fighting the “regulatory onslaught coming out of Washington” without mentioning the battle raging in Washington.
“The battle for liberty, the battle for freedom from our government takes place so often over regulatory burdens,” he said.
His only nod to the shutdown came as he said his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, has threatened one on the state level. On the campaign trail, McAuliffe has said he would not sign a budget that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA. Republicans say that, given opposition to expansion in the GOP-dominated House, his promise amounts to a threat to hold the state budget hostage over Medicaid. McAuliffe, who has lately softened his rhetoric on the subject, has said that he would find a bipartisan way to make expansion happen.
Cuccinelli’s campaign said that he met privately with Cruz before the dinner and urged him to find a way to end the impasse.
Brian Coy, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said the campaign had “fabricated” that account.
“Ken Cuccinelli had an opportunity to go on stage and send a message to Ted Cruz if that was, in fact, his goal,” Coy said. “Instead he was silent, and his staff tried to cover for him with a secret meeting.”
Cruz addressed the gathering after Cuccinelli had left the event, devoting most of his nearly hour-long remarks to the shutdown drama, which he launched with a filibuster-like talkathon that managed to weave in “Green Eggs and Ham.”
“Let me say I will do my very best to keep my speech under 21 hours,” he began. “You’ll know we’re nearing the end when I begin to read ‘The Cat and the Hat.’ ”
Cruz said that the health-care law was destroying jobs, causing insurance premiums to skyrocket and infringing on religious liberty, the latter because of requirements that certain health-insurance plans provide contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
He offered a general words of praise for Cuccinelli, calling him a “principled constitutional warrior.”
“Let me say for a second how proud I am of my friend Ken Cuccinelli,” Cruz said. “Ken is smart. He’s principled. And he’s fearless. And that last characteristic in particular is a rare, rare commodity in elected life.”