Dragged down by the flawed rollout of his health care expansion and revelations about the National Security Agency’s spy programs, President Barack Obama is looking for a rebound on the campaign trail.
Appearing at a rally this afternoon in Northern Virginia for Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign, who’s leading in polls before voters cast ballots on Nov. 5, Obama is seeking to align himself with a political victory and underscore the political shift in a once reliably Republican state.
“He wants to have a win,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter. “The last two weeks haven’t been great for the White House -- the poll numbers, the NSA scandal continues to percolate, and, obviously, the rollout of health care has been nothing short of terrible. I’m sure the White House wants to get some upbeat publicity and change the subject.”
Obama won Virginia in 2008, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to get the state’s electoral votes since 1964, and again in 2012. He did so by turning out minority, young and female voters, and those groups will be key to McAuliffe’s performance against Republican State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The Virginia contest is one of two off-year governor’s races. The other is in New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie is poised to win re-election. Obama hasn’t campaigned for Democrat Barbara Buono.
“Christie’s cruising,” said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks governor’s races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. A McAuliffe win in Virginia against a Christie win in New Jersey would mean “a split decision.”
“Right now, Republicans have 30 of the 50 governors,” Duffy said. “Democrats want to build some momentum to try to elevate that playing field. And as far as Virginia is concerned, Democrats want to put an exclamation point on the fact that Virginia is no longer a red southern state.”
The test for Obama and McAuliffe is turnout, which dropped 48 percent in the 2009 gubernatorial race in Virginia compared with the 2008 presidential race, Duffy said. Younger voters, minorities and women more to skip the off-year balloting and , and Obama’s appearance is intended to counter that tendency.
“There’s no better closer than the president,” she said.
At the same time, Obama may need a boost from a McAuliffe win as much as the candidate may get from the president. His approval rating hit an all-time low, 42 percent, in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week that illustrated the political damage from the troubled rollout of the health-care law.
Obama is campaigning for McAuliffe as Cuccinelli has made an issue of the federal government subpoenaing records from a company he founded, GreenTech Automotive Inc. The inquiries are being made in connection with the company’s use of a visa program to attract foreign investors.
McAuliffe, 56, who resigned from the battery-powered carmaker last December to devote full time to the campaign, has said he was unaware of the inquiries.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to address the investigations other than to say they aren’t being handled from the White House.
“The president believes strongly that Terry McAuliffe is the right person for the job in Virginia and looks forward to campaigning for him,” Carney said.
McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton loyalist and Democratic Party fundraiser, has a lead over Cuccinelli of 12 percentage points in the latest Washington Post survey and four points in a Quinnipiac University poll.
McAuliffe entered the homestretch campaigning with Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and possible 2016 presidential contender, as well as her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Vice President Joe Biden also is campaigning for McAuliffe and first lady Michelle Obama has recorded a radio advertisement on McAuliffe’s behalf.
Republicans are seeking to repair their political fortunes after Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential loss and a budget standoff that led to a government shutdown fight, driving down the party’s approval ratings. Virginia, home to federal facilities including the Pentagon and to government contractors such as Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman Corp., was among the states hardest hit by the partial shutdown.
Virginia was 39th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in economic growth in the year through the second quarter of 2013, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States. That number doesn’t reflect the effects of last month’s shutdown, which furloughed thousands of government workers and contractors in northern Virginia, the state’s most prosperous region.
Cuccinelli’s campaign sees Obama’s visit today as an opportunity to tie McAuliffe to a president with sagging approval ratings and portray him as beholden to an unpopular and ineffective administration, said a campaign adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to make a statement.
The Republican’s campaign wants to make the election a referendum on the health-care law Obama championed and signed into law in 2010. Cuccinelli’s aides argue that the president’s decision to campaign for McAuliffe -- coming amid a deluge of headlines documenting the botched rollout of the measure’s online health insurance enrollment system -- is handing them a surge of momentum in the critical closing days of the race.
Cuccinelli was the first attorney general in the country to file suit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, just hours after Obama signed it.
Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, now the director of federal government affairs at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said Obama’s appearance at the same time as the health care rollout woes may hurt McAuliffe as much as it helps him.
“To bring Obama in at the end,” he said, “they either feel very confident or very worried.”
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