Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general, has dialed back his ad spending in liberal-leaning Northern Virginia in comparison with other regions of the state. And after months of seeming to avoid talking about some of his more conservative positions, he has returned to fiery rhetoric in recent appearances.
He has also sought help from a steady stream of conservative Republican luminaries, including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and his father, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) — choices that may hold particular appeal to voters considering Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, who is largely responsible for Cuccinelli’s struggle to lock up Republican support.
Cuccinelli also rallied with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in Richmond last weekend and staged a conference call on the Affordable Care Act with Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) on Tuesday.
“I believe that President Obama ought to fire Kathleen Sebelius,” Cuccinelli said Tuesday, repeating a popular line among conservatives about the secretary of health and human services, who has overseen the rollout of the federal health-care law. “Congress should legally pass a one-year delay of the individual mandate.”
The strategy suggests that Cuccinelli is vulnerable among the state’s most ardent conservatives, who were widely expected to turn out in droves for a politician who has made a name for himself as a tea party hero. In the campaign’s final stretch, it may also suggest that the Republican has given up on moderate voters who have already decided how they’ll vote — or not to vote at all.
“I think Ken Cuccinelli is a polarizing figure,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. “Someone who’s going to be upset that Paul Ryan is going to help him probably made up their mind about Cuccinelli two years ago.”
But “for some Republicans who are a little disenchanted with the campaign,” Gonzales said, these surrogates “can help generate some enthusiasm that wasn’t there otherwise.”
Cuccinelli has consistently trailed in the polls — two statewide surveys released Wednesday showed McAuliffe leading by seven percentage points among likely voters — in part because the attorney general has failed to close the deal with what should be his most natural supporters. Some on the right have gravitated toward Sarvis, while others have indicated that they may stay away from their precincts on Nov. 5.
Cuccinelli will have a high-profile opportunity to reshape the race Thursday evening, when he and McAuliffe will appear together in Blacksburg in the final televised debate of the campaign. The debate, co-sponsored by Virginia Tech and Roanoke’s WDBJ-TV, will be televised across southwest Virginia, a crucial region for Cuccinelli to shore up support among conservatives.