ARLINGTON, Va. — Virginia's bitter rivals for governor reached out to the same figure on the weekend before the election to motivate voters: President Barack Obama.
The president appeared at a rally Sunday for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate. Obama hit hard on the theme that Kenneth Cuccinelli, McAuliffe's Republican rival in Tuesday's election, was an extremist.
"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 bring progress to an absolute halt if they don't get 100 percent of what they want," Obama said.
At the same time, Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general, sought to turn the race into a referendum on the disastrous rollout of Obama's health care law, mockingly welcoming him to Virginia. "Come on in, Mr. President, we're happy to see you," Cuccinelli told supporters Saturday. "You just bring everybody's focus to Obamacare."
Strategists for McAuliffe dismissed Cuccinelli's focus as an act of desperation with polls showing him behind. "Like a drowning man, he's jumped onto this as his life saver," said Geoff Garin, McAuliffe's pollster.
But the fact that in a 20-minute speech Obama never directly mentioned the health care law seemed an omission reflecting some nervousness on Democrats' part. Instead, Obama and McAuliffe reminded voters of the 16-day government shutdown in an attempt to link Cuccinelli to congressional hard-liners. "There aren't a lot of states that felt more pain than folks right here in Virginia," the president said.
Both gubernatorial candidates are in the furious last stages of turning out supporters, pleading for volunteers to knock on doors, and traversing the state with political celebrities to inspire their base. McAuliffe, who appeared with former President Bill Clinton last week, is to campaign today with Vice President Joe Biden. Cuccinelli will appear with Sen. Marco Rubio and, in an election eve rally in Richmond, with Ron Paul, the former congressman and Republican presidential candidate.
Dan Braswell, a Cuccinelli volunteer, said that in canvassing voters, "The only question I ask is, 'Which issues matter to you the most and who do you intend to vote for? The No. 1 issue people mention, he added, is jobs and "moving the economy."
If Cuccinelli's campaign falters, post-mortems are likely to focus on why, despite voters overwhelming concern with jobs, he focused much of his message on noneconomic issues that motivate the tea party. "Virginia is the next battlefield in Obamacare and it's Tuesday," Cuccinelli said. "Voters are upset," he added. "They were lied to by the president of the United States," adding, "And by golly has he got an ally in Terry McAuliffe."
The McAuliffe campaign says Cuccinelli's focus on the law paints him as obsessed with the issue and unlikely to be a governor who will reach across the aisle to solve problems.