Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II said Monday he was uncertain whether he would have voted for the bipartisan measure on Capitol Hill that brought the 16-day federal shutdown to an end.
“I don’t know whether I would have voted for it,” Cuccinelli told reporters in response to a question.
The Republican also accused his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, of threatening a shutdown of his own when he declared he wouldn’t sign a state budget if the General Assembly didn’t agree to expand Medicaid as allowed under the federal health-care law.
Cuccinelli also cited an episode in 2006 when he said he proposed legislation to ease a budgetary standoff.
McAuliffe and his Democratic allies reacted swiftly to Cuccinelli’s remark about whether he would have backed the compromise.
“I opposed the government shutdown and supported the bipartisan plan to re-open the government because Virginia families can not afford more economic uncertainty caused by Washington gridlock,” McAuliffe said in a written statement. “Ken Cuccinelli’s refusal today to support reopening the government demonstrates a lack of leadership. Once again, he has put Tea Party ideology above what is best for Virginia. When Washington gridlock is hurting Virginia families, ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t cut it.”
Cuccinelli, flanked by fellow attorneys general from other states, held the news conference after rallying dozens of conservative loyalists in Sterling with scathing criticism of the new health-care law and strong talk about fending off the federal government.
With about two weeks until Election Day, perhaps 150 people jammed Cuccinelli’s rally Monday, at his Sterling campaign headquarters just over the Fairfax County border in Loudoun County. At his side were fellow attorneys general Pam Bondi (Fla.), Luther Strange (Ala.), Sam Olens (Ga.) and Patrick Morrisey (W.Va.), who took turns depicting McAuliffe as a political dilettante who would remake the state — which, they said, he barely understands — into a Democratic outpost. And they extolled Cuccinelli as an unbending conservative. Cuccinelli embraced his role as a crusader in the name of “first principles.”
“We don’t win every time. But I’ll tell you what — you don’t win any fights you don’t get in,” Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli boasted of suing the federal government over the health-care law, called the Environmental Protection Agency the “employment prevention agency” and touted his work with Fairfax County in a successful legal challenge to costly federal stormwater rules. He also made sport of the flawed rollout this month of the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance market.
“You and I know the answer to every problem of more government — which is the other side’s [position] — doesn’t work. It collapses eventually. It starts to break down — first on the Web site,” he said amid laughter. “I mean, the worst problem there is when you get through.”
In one of the more emotional moments of his speech, Cuccinelli’s eyes appeared to water as he talked about having argued for a writ of actual innocence on behalf of Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison until DNA tests helped overturn his conviction.
Cuccinelli, emphasizing the importance of turnout, expressed confidence that he could come from behind despite a series of polls giving a single-digit lead to McAuliffe. But he acknowledged concern that the shutdown has complicated his run, particularly with polls showing Americans blame the GOP more than Democrats. “I think all I can do is be concerned and go forward,” Cuccinelli said.
Olga Garber, who described herself as in her 50s and a home-schooling teacher who lives in Leesburg, was thrilled after Cuccinelli’s speech.
“He is a constitutionalist. He is a true-blue liberty-loving man,” Garber said. “McAuliffe chose to run in Virginia because he thought his money would buy him a seat here.”
Democrats used Cuccinelli’s appearance with Strange to criticize him for failing to sign a letter with 47 other state attorneys general who urged Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Only Cuccinelli and Strange failed to sign, Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy said in an e-mail. Cuccinelli has said he made it a practice not to sign any such letters.