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.
At a rally this afternoon in Northern Virginia for the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who’s leading in polls before voters cast ballots on Nov. 5, Obama sought to align himself with a victory and underscore the political shift in a once reliably Republican state.
“I was tired of having other people have all the fun,” Obama told the gathering of 1,600 people at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, noting that the Clintons and actress Kerry Washington were campaigning for McAuliffe. “I wanted to get in on the action.”
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 McAuliffe’s performance against Republican State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will hinge on those groups.
“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.”
Cuccinelli, in a telephone press conference Nov. 1, said he could use Obama’s appearance to his own advantage by tying McAuliffe to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, which the Republican described as “a complete disaster.”
Obama’s visit “is an important reminder of Terry McAuliffe’s blind support of his big-government agenda starting with Obamacare, which was deceptively sold and is hurting Virginians,” Cuccinelli’s press secretary, Anna Nix, said in a statement today.
Obama urged the Arlington audience to push for a big turnout. “I hope you guys are fired up on Tuesday,” he said.
Neither McAuliffe nor Obama mentioned the president’s healthcare expansion during their remarks.
New Jersey Race
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 last week other than to say they aren’t being handled from the White House.
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 will campaign for McAuliffe tomorrow 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.
Obama said McAuliffe is well-suited to govern a swing state because he is pragmatic and “he knows how to get things done.” Obama today painted Cuccinelli as too aligned with Tea Party activists who promoted the federal government shutdown.
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 says Obama’s visit today is providing a late surge of momentum for his campaign by illustrating McAuliffe’s ties to an unpopular president.
“The law’s namesake, the president, is coming to Virginia, and that is a huge plus for us,” Cuccinelli said Nov. 1. He said Obama’s visit is helping make the election “at least in part a referendum on Obamacare.”
Cuccinelli was the first attorney general in the country to file suit against the health-care law, just hours after Obama signed it.
Across Party Lines
McAuliffe’s team argues Obama is well-positioned to amplify the Democrat’s closing message about the importance of taking a bipartisanship approach to leadership, and bolster his case that he is the candidate willing and able to reach across party lines. An aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal campaign strategy said Obama is also uniquely able to stoke enthusiasm among those most likely to vote Nov. 5, fueling their final push to get people to the polls.
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.”