Cuccinelli, McAuliffe launch final, frenetic pushes

Republican Ken Cuccinelli II launched a frenetic final push Saturday to gain momentum in the race for Virginia governor, hoping that the lingering unpopularity of the new health-care law could push him to victory Tuesday.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe, meanwhile, cast Cuccinelli — and his opposition to the Affordable Care Act — as more evidence of the Republican’s extreme ideology and strong association with the tea party movement.

Polls continued to show McAuliffe ahead in the race, but his lead varies widely depending on the survey, and Cuccinelli said he believes the race is tightening.

On Saturday, the attorney general focused heavily on the troubled start-up of the health-care exchanges, which he predicted will bring critics of the landmark legislation to the polls Tuesday. Cuccinelli has also called attention to President Obama’s scheduled visit to Virginia on Sunday, when he plans to campaign with McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at an Arlington County high school.

“I want you to wake up and think, ‘Thank you, Mr. President, for coming to Virginia,’ ” he told more than 100 Henrico County Republicans over breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe, located in a suburban Richmond town center built around a Whole Foods Market.

Accompanied by his wife, Teiro, Cuccinelli said his campaign had momentum on its side. He urged supporters to spend the whole day knocking on doors, even if the gray skies started to produce rain.

“You get extra points when you show up [on doorsteps] looking like a drowned rat,” he told them.

At a couple of his rallies, Cuccinelli — in jeans, cowboy boots and a blue blazer — had another national tea party star at his side: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).

In Prince William County, Walker said Virginians should think carefully before supporting McAuliffe because of what Walker characterized as McAuliffe’s liberal bent, his ties to big labor and his transactional view of politics.

“Who do you want in charge?” Walker asked. “Do you want somebody who’s going to side with the big government special interest? Do you want somebody who’s going to side with the big government labor unions? Do you want someone who’s not just offering a seat at the table but essentially is offering to buy the table? And that is Ken’s opponent who said to big government union bosses, ‘You’re going to be right at the table in Richmond.’”

McAuliffe started the day with state Sen. Mark R. Herring (Loudoun), the Democratic candidate for attorney general, in Fairfax. They were accompanied by Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D), a former governor, and they fired up about 50 supporters preparing to fan out and knock on doors. McAuliffe said the campaign deployed about 12,000 canvassers Saturday.

McAuliffe depicted Cuccinelli as a tea party extremist and reiterated a pledge to govern from both sides of the aisle. “My opponent has no history of that whatsoever,” McAuliffe said. “He has said you want to fight abortion, you have to fix potholes. I want to fix potholes because we need to fix potholes for transportation. I just think they have a tea party ticket — rigid ideologues on the other side from top to bottom — and this is not what the public wants.”

The Democrat also reminded the canvassers how important their job is in an election whose outcome could depend heavily on which side draws out more of its base Tuesday.

McAuliffe took questions from the media, a rarity during a generally cautious campaign that is seeking to maintain a advantage that has appeared in every recent public poll.

In response to a question about whether he was concerned that the botched implementation of the health-care law might erode his lead in a tightening race, McAuliffe said he was confident that Virginians would vote based on issues closer to home.

“What people are really focused on are the issues that affect them day to day, here, right now in Virginia — and what you’re going to do as governor,” McAuliffe said.

Herring said he, too, was unconcerned about the effect of the health-care law’s implementation. The Loudoun Democrat is locked in a tight race against state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), prompting a redirection in recent days of money and attention to a contest that usually garners little of either.

“I think most voters are going to make their decisions based on where the candidates stand on the issues,” Herring said. “They see Mark Obenshain will be just a continuation of what we have right now with Ken Cuccinelli, and voters are going to reject that extreme, ideological approach. They’re looking for, you know, moderate, pragmatic, problem-solving. That’s the kind of state senator I’ve been, and that’s the kind of approach I’ll bring to the attorney general’s office.”

McAuliffe, Kaine and Herring made additional appearances across the state Saturday, while Cuccinelli — in appearances in Spotsylvania County as well as Prince William — continued to hammer on Obamacare.

“I didn’t think about this until recently, but I was literally the first person in America to fight back after the president signed the bill,” Cuccinelli told a crowd of about 150 people on the square of Spotsylvania Courthouse Village, referring to his filing of a lawsuit on Virginia’s behalf against the federal law. He also linked his defiant stance to that of another Virginian, Colonial patriot Patrick Henry, saying the legal challenge was filed on the same day as Henry’s renowned “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.” He urged Virginians to use Tuesday’s vote as a referendum on the law.

“Folks, we have a chance to lead in Virginia again,” Cuccinelli said. “We’ve got to push back.”

State Republican Party Chairman Pat Mullins said the race is tightening in part because the government shutdown — “which did not help us” — is past.

“We’re now on the issue of Obamacare, which is really helping us,” Mullins said. “Five years ago, a stranger came into Virginia and said, ‘I want to be your president.’ We knew nothing about him. No voting record. No business background. No qualifications to be president. And there he his. Now the same people who brought us Barack Obama — Planned Parenthood, the anti-gun groups, Bloomberg . . . and the Sierra Club — they’re all bringing us Act Two: Terry McAuliffe. And Terry McAuliffe has got exactly the same qualifications to be governor of Virginia that Barack Obama had to be president of the United States.”

Mullins also appealed to party members to put aside their differences to unite behind Cuccinelli.

“For the next four days, we’re not moderates, conservatives . . . we’re not Paul people or Romney people or tea party people,” Mullins said. “We’re Virginians united to protect this commonwealth and our values and to say no to Terry McAuliffe: ‘You stay on your side of the river.’ ”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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