This year's Virginia gubernatorial race featuring Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli is shaping up to be a proxy-battle on national partisan issues, in addition to its traditional role as a bellwether race.
McAuliffe, a verbose businessman and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made his name in politics as a prolific fundraiser supporting the Clintons. He currently leads Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general and conservative former lawmaker, in polls heading into Election Day on Nov. 5. While one automated poll released Friday showed McAuliffe's lead shrinking to just 2 points, other surveys place him up by about 7 points.
Both sides have seen a flurry of campaign help in the final days, with President Barack Obama headlining an event Sunday night in Arlington, Va., and Vice President Joe Biden scheduled to attend a rally Monday morning for McAuliffe. Meanwhile, Cuccinelli has had rallies alongside Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul, both conservative heroes.
Speaking Sunday, Obama tore into Cuccinelli for his anti-government views and decision to sue a scientist at the University of Virginia regarding climate change research.
"We will not create jobs when you focus on things like attacking Social Security," he said. "It doesn't create jobs when you go after scientists, and you try to offer your own alternative theories of how things work and engage in litigation around stuff that isn't political. You don't create jobs and help the people of Virginia by trying to restrict the health care choices that women make."
Cuccinelli's candidacy has been bolstered by the tea party. But his incendiary comments on gay rights, global warming and women's reproductive rights have made him an easy target for McAuliffe and outside advertising campaigns by Democratic groups. As a result, McAuliffe, who shares with Cuccinelli dismal favorability ratings from voters, has been bolstered by a 16-point gender gap, thanks to ads highlighting Cuccinelli's opposition to abortion.
McAuliffe has far outraised Cuccinelli, collecting $34 million compared to $20 million for the Republican, according to a tally by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan group tracking money in Virginia politics.
During a campaign event Oct. 24 in Roanoke, Cuccinelli played to his strength and highlighted his conservative ideals.
"The liberty pie doesn't change sides. Government power, citizen freedom, that's it. And everything they do to grow their power takes away your liberty," he told a room full of about 50 supporters. "[My economic plan would] grow the middle class, get businesses started from nothing and grow from where they are and it doesn't have to come at the expense of someone else. I believe the greatest resource we have in Virginia, is Virginians."
Cuccinelli also played up his role as the first attorney general to sue the federal government regarding Obama's controversial health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, a major campaign issue. McAuliffe has said he would not sign a Virginia budget that does not include a Medicaid expansion made possible under the law, whereas Cuccinelli would follow the lead of Republican governors such as Rick Perry of Texas and work to minimize the law's effect.
"Why would we double-down on failure?" Cuccinelli said to reporters following the rally. "If people want to see Obamacare grow, they can vote for Terry."
Cuccinelli's message works for Ray Oostdyk of Montvale, Va., a Republican attending the Roanoke event.
"I was an early supporter even though I was way out of the district because he had a lot of beliefs I agreed with: less government, less taxes," says Oostdyk. "Virginia is a good state right now, we've been doing really well and we want to keep it that way. And Ken has pro-life values, so do I. There seems to be a lot of excitement in this area. Northern Virginia is a whole different ball game."