HERNDON, Va. -- A week before election day, the two top candidates vying to become Virginia's next governor sought to emphasize their supporters' biggest fears.
For Democrats, it’s the fear that their voters won’t turn out for a typically low turnout off-year election. Terry McAuliffe turned to his biggest supporter, former President Bill Clinton, to remind Democrats it was only their vote that could save them from an extreme GOP ticket.
But on the other side of the vote-rich Fairfax County, where both men hail from, Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s last ditch effort ahead of the November 5 contest was to paint it as a referendum on Obamacare. The Cuccinelli campaign hoped Tea Party supported Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, could stop wary voters from choosing a Libertarian third party candidate.
Eight days before the commonwealth picks its next governor -- and Democrats hope they can break the jinx that the president’s party loses the Old Dominion contest -- a Washington Post poll showed McAuliffe widening his lead to double digits, up 12 points over Cuccinelli, and leading with female voters by a stunning 24 points as Democrats hammer him on social issues and women's health. The Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, was taking 8%--votes Cuccinelli can’t afford to lose if he hopes to close the gap.
‘Dealmaker’ McAuliffe looks to close the sale
McAuliffe, midway through a three-day campaign swing with the former president, his close friend and political mentor, looked to Clinton to talk up his positive attributes even as Republicans eagerly remind voters of his history controversial business deals and investigations into his former electric car company.
“He will be a very good governor because he is a very good person. I see it in the eyes of his children, even when they're fighting and stuff,” Clinton laughed, recalling the long friendship he and Hillary have had with McAuliffe and his wife Dorothy.
“People say ‘Terry's just a dealmaker,’” said Clinton -- a frequent criticism from Republicans of the former DNC chairman and fundraiser.
But, Clinton said, he wished there had been a dealmaker during the recent government shutdown, telling the crowd. “The Constitution of the United States should be subtitled, 'Let's Make a Deal.’”
The former president reminded the crowd though that Cuccinelli’s supporters were passionate and would turn out to the polls-- and that Democrats had to too next Tuesday.
“If you can make people paranoid & ideological and angry all the time, if you can forcefeed them venom against people in another party so that steam comes out of their ears instead of lightbulbs going off in their head -- they will come out and vote,” said Clinton.
At the McAuliffe event, Carol Randall said that she attended because “I wanted to see Bill Clinton.” She added that she had already been to several McAuliffe events.
Eric Fielding said Clinton’s presence brought him “from two-thirds to 100 percent” in favor of spending his Monday night at the rally.
Imperiled by a Third Party?
On the other side of Fairfax County a few hours earlier, Cuccinelli made a last gasp attempt at shoring up his passionate base he hopes will be the ones to turnout in next Tuesday’s low turnout election -- with Tea Party favorite Rand Paul by his side.
The GOP attorney general didn’t focus on social issues, which Democrats have hammered him on. Paul also stayed away from the socially conservative rhetoric he used at an earlier rally in Lynchburg. At an earlier at the conservative Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, Paul said that DNA testing and abortion could lead to eugenics and allow the government to “"select out the imperfect among us.”
Instead, Cuccinelli repeatedly stressed he would fight for liberty and constitutional issues -- critical to keeping his slipping base in tact and stopping them from bleeding to Sarvis.
Both Paul and Cuccinelli took the stage with Big Gulps -- a not-so-subtle slam against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose gun control super PAC has dropped $1.1 million into the race’s final weeks to boost McAuliffe, who’s already heavily outspent Cuccinelli on the airwaves.
“I figured after he got my Big Gulp, he was coming for my guns,” the Kentucky senator laughed.
“If you want to protect the 2nd Amendment, you’ve got to elect someone who will protect the 1st Amendment,” Paul continued. “In our country, the entire Bill of Rights is under assault. We need champions and you need a governor who will stand up against an overbearing and overzealous government. Ken Cuccinelli’s the one to do it.”
The most timely example of that, Cuccinelli repeatedly stressed, was his staunch opposition to President Obama’s health care bill, which he famously became the first state attorney general to sue the federal government minutes after its passage.
“That case was not about health care -- it was about liberty,” said Cuccinelli. “Because if they can order you to buy health insurance, they can order you to buy anything. And they will.”
“We've seen more people get kicked off since October 1st than got on,” Cuccinelli said, jabbing at the glitches that have plagued the health care exchange website. “My opponent didn't think Obamacare went far enough. It’s the Unaffordable Care Act.”
Cuccinelli put it bluntly to a friendly crowd -- “November 5th is a referendum on Obamacare.”
“If you want to hold back the tide of Obamacare -- I need your vote,” Cuccinelli said to a roaring crowd.
And Cuccinelli took plenty of jabs at Clinton's Virginia tour, joking that he had seen their plane earlier that day and "it had two left wings-- It was flying in circles, kinda funny."
Sally Gritman of Fairfax said she had “pretty much made up her mind” but was looking for moderation in a candidate, and she didn’t see it much from either candidate. Gritman said she came mainly to see Paul, and while she knew she wasn’t going to vote for McAuliffe, she was still deciding between Cuccinelli and Sarvis.
“I really don’t know enough yet,” said Gritman. “I think [Sarvis] seems to be more moderate and more willing to listen to different ideas and not so dogmatic."
Other faithful in the crowd dismissed the notion that Cuccinelli was trailing, and said they believed his fervent supporters would make the difference on November 5.
“I think the polls are baloney,” said Eileen Regan of Fairfax, calling McAuliffe “a puppet of the Clintons."
“Many conservatives have jobs, most of us. We actually work for a living instead of relying on the government to hand us things,” said Regan.
“We’re out working; we don’t answer our phones very often, we’re too busy.”