Obama ties Cuccinelli to GOP obstructionists
By: James Hohmann
November 3, 2013 04:16 PM EST
Democrats gambled Sunday that Virginia voters are angrier with Republicans over the shutdown than at Barack Obama for the botched health care rollout.
The president worked during an afternoon rally in the D.C. suburb of Arlington to link the GOP candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, with the wing of the national party he blames for paralysis.
“You’ve seen an extreme faction of the Republican Party that has shown again and again and again that they’re willing to hijack the entire party and the country and the economy and grind progress to an absolute halt if they don’t get 100 percent of what they want,” Obama told a crowd of 1,600 in a high school gymnasium.
“You cannot afford to have a governor who is thinking the same way,” he added, highlighting how furloughs hurt Virginia more than almost anywhere else. “That’s a practical job. They can’t afford to be an ideologue.”
Obama said Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe will follow in the pragmatic legacy of the two previous Democratic governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both of whom are now in the Senate.
With different issues, both sides want to nationalize the race to fire up their core base of support ahead of Tuesday’s low-turnout off-year election.
Cuccinelli’s campaign aggressively bracketed Obama by focusing on health care. They’ve welcomed the president’s trip — just a 10-minute drive from the White House — predicting it will galvanize conservatives and eager to make the vote becomes as much as possible a referendum on the problems with HealthCare.gov.
Obama, though, did not discuss his signature legislative accomplishment during his 21-minute speech, and McAuliffe made only passing reference to his support for expanding Medicaid.
The frontrunner seized instead on an interview that Cuccinelli gave Fox News on Friday in which he said he’s “perfectly happy” with voter attention turning away from the shutdown — which ended two-and-a-half weeks ago — and back to Obamacare, an issue more helpful to him.
McAuliffe slammed Cuccinelli for not publicly condemning Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) when both spoke at a gala for social conservatives in Richmond during the shutdown, even though Cuccinelli has said he told Cruz backstage to get the shutdown over with as soon as possible.
McAuliffe also attacked Cuccinelli for refusing to say how he would have voted on the compromise that ended the imbroglio.
“He stood with the tea party and not with Virginia families,” McAuliffe said. “Can you even imagine if Ted Cruz, Ken Cuccinelli and the tea party ran the Virginia government?”
A major emphasis of the president’s speech was warning Democrats not to take for granted McAuliffe’s lead in the polls.
“Nothing makes me more nervous than when my supporters start feeling too confident, so I want to put the fear of God in all of you,” Obama said. “Virginia historically has always been a swing state, and this race will be close because past races in this state have always been close.”
Turnout among all groups always drops off from the presidential to gubernatorial elections. In 2008, 75 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. It was 40 percent in 2009. Last year, 72 percent voted.
The McAuliffe campaign has gone to great lengths to activate the Obama coalition, especially women and African-Americans, without the first black president on the ballot.
Actress Kerry Washington of the show “Scandal” focused on a laundry list of issues important to the coalition.
“The other side, the tea party, they usually show up every election,” she said, fresh off hosting “Saturday Night Live.” “They don’t take their right to vote for granted…Let’s make sure that the voices of a few don’t drown out the voices of all of you.”
Both campaigns focused on firing up their bases in the final weekend before Tuesday’s elections.
Trying to get the focus on health care, Cuccinelli held a Sunday conference call to talk about the law with Ben Carson, a former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who has become a star on the right for his fiery TV appearances and speeches. His press team even blasted out a parody version of what the president might say, full of tongue-in-cheek jokes about McAuliffe and the web site problems.
Cuccinelli’s brother, Kevin, talked with reporters outside the high school about the perils of the law. He practices family medicine in Colorado and flew in to help his brother for the final four days.
“Terry McAuliffe is a huge supporter of Obamacare,” he said, wearing his white medical coat. “Ken is the opposite.”
But, inside Washington-Lee High School, the focus was almost entirely on the shutdown.
Three House Democrats sought to link Cuccinelli with congressional Republicans.
“Imagine, the guy that wants to be governor of Virginia says we need more Ted Cruzs in the Senate,” said Jim Moran, who represents the Alexandria area. “We need more Ted Cruzs like we need a hole in the head.”
“What better place to stop this un-American extremism than in the commonwealth,” he added.
Warner, the Democratic senator, asked for a show of hands of how many in the crowd were personally impacted. Most went up.
“If you are tired of that kind of tea party extremism, we have a chance to say no to that on Tuesday,” he said.
Cuccinelli’s weakness at the top of the ticket has heightened Democratic hopes of sweeping all three statewide offices for the first time since 1989. If that happens, they will control all five statewide offices — including both U.S. Senate seats — for the first time since 1969.
That would be a big moment for Virginia, which has shifted from a red to purple state over the last decade. Obama was the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to carry this state in a presidential election, and he won again last year.
A significant streak also looks likely to be broken Tuesday: Since 1973, no party has won the governor’s race just one year after winning the White House.
A Washington Post poll published last week, which had McAuliffe up 12 points, found that a majority of likely voters, 51 percent, said Republicans were “mainly responsible” for the shutdown — compared to 30 percent who blamed Obama. One-third of Virginians said in the poll that they were personally inconvenienced by it.
More than 100 Cuccinelli supporters gathered across the street from the school holding signs, mostly related to health care.
But not all of them were on message. A woman carried an oversized poster board with a picture of an aborted fetus at 10 weeks. A man in a Captain America costume waved a 10-foot-by-15-foot Gadsden flag with the words “revolt against socialism” added on. Another man, wearing a Colonial-era costume complete with tricorne hat, yelled “Indict Obama for Benghazi-gate” over and over.
All told, Obama spent less than two hours in the commonwealth. Vice President Joe Biden will appear Monday in nearby Annandale.
“This election is going to say a lot about Virginia’s future and the country’s future,” Obama said.