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Cuccinelli sues federal government to stop health-care reform law

(2009 Photo By Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Legal experts have expressed skepticism about the likelihood of success for either approach but have indicated that there are few direct precedents in either case on which to predict Supreme Court action.

It's not just Cuccinelli's aggressive challenge to the federal government that gratifies many grass-roots activists -- it's his willingness to rock the boat in defense of his agenda.

"This is what we hired him for," said Ron Wilcox, a Fairfax County resident and organizer with the Northern Virginia Tea Party.

During his campaign last year, Cuccinelli met with tea party groups across Virginia. When more than 1,000 rallied in Richmond in January in support of the state's anti-individual mandate bill, Cuccinelli took to the stairs of the historic bell tower in Capitol Square to address the crowd.

"It's time for people like you all to step up and to draw the lines that our Founding Fathers thought they drew very clearly," Cuccinelli told the crowd. "We need to reemphasize that there are sovereigns in America. One of those is the Commonwealth of Virginia."

At the state's Republican convention in May, Cuccinelli promised not to just "go along to get along," which he termed the "toughest test" of conservative principles.

Cuccinelli's newfound stature in his party could create tension in Richmond, where just a few short weeks ago it was Gov. Robert F. McDonnell who was being held up as the new face of the Republican Party, chosen by national leaders to deliver the response to Obama's State of the Union address.

Although ideologically in line with McDonnell, who was also elected in November and supports Cuccinelli's lawsuit to stop the health-care law, Cuccinelli and his confrontational style could complicate the governor's efforts to rebrand the GOP as inclusive and pragmatic.

Cuccinelli did not alert McDonnell's office before sending his letter on nondiscrimination policies to colleges and universities, leaving officials to learn of it through a media inquiry. Although McDonnell agreed with Cuccinelli's legal reasoning, protests that followed were a distraction while McDonnell was trying to help legislators adopt a budget and conclude the first legislative session of his term.

"This back-of-the-hand, gratuitous, finger-in-your-eye, hand-on-the-chest stuff -- people don't feel good about it," said a senior Republican strategist in Richmond, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid creating a rift in the party. "It's not how you build a broad-based coalition."

Democrats have sought to feature Cuccinelli in fundraising appeals and make him a favorite of liberal blogs and prime-time coverage on MSNBC.

Audio of Cuccinelli answering questions about how courts could be used to challenge Obama's citizenship quickly made its way around the Internet, along with a video shot during the campaign of Cuccinelli discussing how the government could use Social Security numbers to track people.

Cuccinelli said that he was answering hypothetical questions about Obama's citizenship and that he believes the president was born in the United States.

Staff writer Derek Kravitz contributed to this report.

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