Virginia’s major-party candidates for governor each cast next week’s election as a referendum on national politics as Democrat Terry McAuliffe stumped across the state Monday with former president Bill Clinton while Republican Ken Cuccinelli II campaigned with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Both camps spoke to their most loyal supporters while calling on voters to send a message far beyond the commonwealth on Nov. 5. With McAuliffe at his side, Clinton urged voters to take a stand against tea party sympathizers, while Paul called on voters to cast their ballots against overweening federal power.
Hoping to give another boost to McAuliffe’s surging campaign for Virginia governor, Clinton heaped praise on his friend and political ally as the two met with supporters inside a crowded school gym in Fairfax County.
The standing-room-only appearance before about 500 people at Herndon Middle School was part of a four-day swing through Virginia by McAuliffe and the former president that is meant to persuade more voters to turn out on Election Day — a crucial factor in an off-year election, when turnout is often low.
Clinton picked up where he left off in other appearances around the state by portraying McAuliffe as a job creator who is able to reach across the political aisle. Clinton described Cuccinelli as an obstructionist focused on his ideology and a member of a party focused on division.
“I know when you elect him as governor of Virginia a week from tomorrow, half the people who voted against him a week from tomorrow will wonder what they were thinking,” Clinton said of McAuliffe. “He is a good man.”
At an appearance at Liberty University earlier in the day, Paul went further, casting the upcoming vote in dire terms: He warned of a coming dystopia in which abortion and DNA testing could be used to weed out people with disabilities.
McAuliffe responded by telling a crowd at Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus that Cuccinelli has been a skeptic of science. The Democrat reminded the audience of his opponent’s efforts, as the state’s attorney general, to obtain documents from a University of Virginia climate researcher.
Earlier, perhaps 400 people packed a ballroom at the Waterford beside the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax County to greet Cuccinelli and Paul, who is a hero to many tea party members and libertarians. His appearance was aimed at shoring up support among voters who may be leaning toward supporting Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis, even as a new Washington Post-Abt SRBI poll showed McAuliffe expanding his lead over Cuccinelli.
Paul received an enthusiastic round of applause as he introduced Cuccinelli as a defender of civil liberties, including the rights to bear arms and to a trial by jury.
“In our country, the entire Bill of Rights is under assault,” Paul said. “We need champions, and you need a governor who will stand up against an overbearing and overzealous government. Ken Cuccinelli is the one to do it.”
Paul praised Cuccinelli for being the first state attorney general to file suit to try to block President Obama’s health-care law, and he called attention to Cuccinelli’s work to free Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in a Virginia prison before DNA tests proved that he had been wrongly convicted.
Paul also criticized the National Security Agency for invading citizens’ privacy without a proper warrant, and he faulted McAuliffe for dismissing his “F” rating from the National Rifle Association.
“When he tells you he’s not concerned about those groups that defend the Second Amendment, it makes me wonder, does he care about the Second Amendment?” Paul asked.
Cuccinelli, too, sounded libertarian themes, saying at one point: “The more government, the less liberty.” McAuliffe, Cuccinelli said, would seek to expand the power — and cost — of Virginia’s government if he wins.
“You like D.C. politics, you’ll love Terry McAuliffe,” he said. “You like Detroit finances, you’ll love Terry McAuliffe.”
Cuccinelli also derided McAuliffe for his reputation as a bumptious salesman, noting that even Clinton had reportedly razzed the Democratic candidate about exaggerating his business prowess earlier Monday.
Cuccinelli kept up his criticism of the federal Affordable Care Act and its bug-filled launch. He said more Americans have lost their health insurance than have been able to buy new government-subsidized policies since its online insurance markets opened on Oct. 1.
“If you think everything’s peachy with Obamacare, there’s a candidate on the ballot for you, and it’s Terry McAuliffe,” Cuccinelli said.
He said McAuliffe would have expanded the federal government’s involvement in health care if he could and would certainly seek to expand Medicaid in Virginia, as allowed under the health-care law.
The GOP says McAuliffe has made promises that could cost every Virginia family $1,700 in new taxes. In contrast, Cuccinelli said, he would offer only one: he would push for more resources to treat the mentally ill.
“I like his moral courage,” said Jeffrey Bothen, 60, a retired Internal Revenue Service employee from Vienna. Bothen, who identified himself as a Constitutionalist Party member, said he took to heart the remark by Paul that the controversy over Obamacare wasn’t over health care but liberty.
Madison Ray, who studies political science at James Madison University, said she had come home to Vienna to cast her vote for Cuccinelli because she believes he would be better able to improve the state’s economy. She attributed the large lead McAuliffe holds among women to scare tactics promoted by his ability to outspend Cuccinelli on a barrage of negative television ads directed heavily against the Republican’s antiabortion beliefs.
“I think people are uninformed,” Ray said. She discounted a series of polls showing Cuccinelli trailing McAuliffe. “I honestly think that someone who’s going to answer a poll is different than someone who’s going to show up on Election Day. I think that’s what it’s banking on.”
At Liberty University, Paul warned that scientific advances could open another chapter of eugenics. Eugenics — the practice weeding out people with hereditary characteristics considered to be socially undesirable — once had the blessing of large swaths of the medical and scientific communities.
In the 1920s, Virginia became one of 37 states to enact laws allowing the state to sterilize people who were classified as “defective persons” because of mental illness, mental retardation, epilepsy or other traits. Under Virginia’s law — which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — such people could be sterilized as a “benefit both to themselves and society.” An estimated 60,000 people were sterilized nationwide under such decrees.
“In your lifetime, much of your potential — or lack thereof — can be known simply by swabbing the inside of your cheek,” Paul said to a packed sporting arena on Liberty’s campus, according to the Associated Press. “Are we prepared to select out the imperfect among us?”
Robert McCartney and the Associated Press contributed to this report.