Terry McAuliffe and Bill Clinton launched a four-day swing through Virginia on Sunday to try to persuade Democrats to show up on Election Day, something the party faithful haven’t always done in the commonwealth’s off-year contests.
Boosting turnout to put McAuliffe in the governor’s mansion is only part of the agenda for the longtime friends and political allies. The other is to hold up Clinton’s presidency, particularly his focus on creating jobs and reaching across the aisle, as a model for what McAuliffe hopes to accomplish as governor. That approach, both argued, is the opposite of what voters should expect from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) if he wins Nov. 5.
“You have two amazingly interesting and wildly different people running,” Clinton told a packed Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Dale City, along Interstate 95 in Prince William County.
Although he said he was “preaching to the choir,” Clinton emphasized that he could serve as a character witness for McAuliffe, who has danced with controversy throughout his decades in politics.
“I know what a good man he is. . . . And I could literally keep you here until tomorrow morning just telling you things that I know about him that make my blood boil when I read these sort of cartoon characterizations of him,” Clinton said.
Clinton cast Cuccinelli as a divisive figure, and he issued a challenge to the Democrats in attendance.
“The virtue of political extremism is that once you get people all torn up and upset, steam coming out of their ears, they will show up and vote. . . . Will you care as much as they do and show up and vote?” Clinton asked.
McAuliffe also described his campaign as an antidote to the partisanship peddled by Cuccinelli.
“Let me say this: We’re proud to be Democrats, but we’re also proud that our ticket is in the mainstream of Virginia,” McAuliffe said, later referring to the GOP slate as “their tea party ticket” and repeating his criticism that Cuccinelli did not stand up to the “shutdown strategy” of Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix said McAuliffe was dodging queries about recent controversies, including his investment with a man who has pleaded guilty to stealing the identities of dying people.
“While Terry McAuliffe campaigns with President Clinton, we wonder whether the gubernatorial candidate will finally answer critical questions,” Nix said.
After Dale City, McAuliffe and Clinton hit Richmond on Sunday afternoon, and they appeared together in Hampton on Sunday night; they were set to visit Norfolk, Blacksburg and Herndon on Monday. Harrisonburg, Charlottesville and Roanoke are on the itinerary the two days after that.
In Richmond, McAuliffe and Clinton were joined onstage by former Democratic governors Timothy M. Kaine and L. Douglas Wilder.
More than 500 people, along with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Black Awakening Choir, filled a stifling auditorium at Richmond Community High School for the chance to see Clinton and McAuliffe.
Clinton told the audience that his friend would win over skeptics as governor.
“I believe when you elect Terry McAuliffe governor, he will be wildly popular,” Clinton said. “And a year from now, lots of people who voted against him will wonder what they were thinking on Election Day.”
Clarissa Henley, a 28-year-old clothing saleswoman, sported a pin with a picture of Clinton’s face atop Superman’s body. “Super Bill,” it read.
“I’m a big Bill fan,” she said, adding that she also likes McAuliffe.
“He’s just not extreme like Cuccinelli,” she said. “He’s for the people.”
Vanessa Evans, 48, snapped a photo of the former president while he was onstage and e-mailed it to two Republican co-workers.
“President Clinton and I spending a lovely afternoon together,” read the message that accompanied the photo.
She said she was inspired by the event to rally friends and co-workers to vote for McAuliffe.
“I’m going to mention to 10 people to vote,” she said.
The schedule is packed with stops in heavily Democratic precincts and college towns, a sign that the McAuliffe team is using Clinton to fire up interest among the base in the closing days of the race. Dale City is a bastion for Democrats in the middle of a county that has swung back and forth between the two parties over the past decade.
McAuliffe has spent much of his political life trying to get the former president and Hillary Rodham Clinton elected, and now they are returning the favor.
Clinton has already done his part to boost the campaign of McAuliffe, who was his chief fundraiser. He has headlined multiple money events, as has the former secretary of state. And she was the main attraction at a recent Falls Church rally.
It was clear at Sunday’s events that the former president was the main draw.
“We came to see Bill,” said Mark Hoyland, 58, a retired federal government worker from Woodbridge who attended the Dale City event.
Hoyland said he has voted for members of both parties but is “leaning Democratic of late” and will back McAuliffe for governor. He has seen more signs for Cuccinelli than McAuliffe in his Lake Ridge neighborhood.
Hoyland also knows he lives in a bellwether county: “As Prince William goes, so goes the nation,” he said.
Indira Sundaram, a tech specialist from Lorton, said she noticed Clinton’s emphasis on cooperation, rather than on tossing partisan red meat. “He said we should work together,” Sundaram said, and she expects McAuliffe to do that if he wins.
Vozzella reported from Richmond.