On the same day a new poll showed the gubernatorial race tightening, Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and former President Bill Clinton struck familiar campaign themes Wednesday during a swing through Charlottesville.
Speaking before a capacity crowd of more than 1,000 at the Paramount Theater, longtime friends McAuliffe and Clinton depicted Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli as a hard-line ideologue — out of touch on both women’s issues and science, the latter a reference to the state attorney general’s 2010 dustup with University of Virginia climatologist Michael Mann.
Referring to Cuccinelli’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, Clinton said, “Virginia will be a much more dangerous place to get sick in” if the Republican wins Tuesday.
Part of a four-day campaign march through Virginia, the Democrats’ Charlottesville stop largely was seen a day earlier as a chance to stir the base for the gubernatorial frontrunner. A Washington Post poll Monday showed McAuliffe with an advantage of 12 percentage points.
But a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday had McAuliffe up by just 4 percentage points, with the support of 45 percent of likely voters to Cuccinelli’s 41 percent and Libertarian Robert Sarvis’ 9 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
“For those of you already helping the campaign, I’m asking, I’m pleading with you to dig a little deeper over the next six days,” McAuliffe told the Paramount crowd. “No sleep. I always say sleep when you’re dead.”
Clinton hailed McAuliffe — the president’s campaign co-chairman during his successful re-election run in 1996 — as a mainstream dealmaker who could ease political polarization in the wake of the government shutdown and in the face of a looming fight over the national debt ceiling.
“I spent a lifetime dealing with this, and this is just an old fight with a new set of clothes,” Clinton said. “But this old fight has a whole new set of consequences.”
Clinton said anger over national politics will only lead to more polarization and gridlock.
“When steam is coming out of your ears, light bulbs can’t come on in your brain,” he said.
Mann introduced the president and McAuliffe, alluding to Cuccinelli’s clash several years ago with the University of Virginia over records related to taxpayer-funded state grant applications Mann filed while at UVa. Cuccinelli has been critical of climate change research.
McAuliffe would protect the state’s “critical assets” in academic research, while Cuccinelli would be “dangerous for our researchers and … for our economy,” Mann said.
“Here is the bottom line: We cannot grow Virginia ’s economy by suing scientists,” McAuliffe said.
Pledging to boost public education, McAuliffe said he would seek to increase teacher pay and alter the state’s Standards of Learning, or SOL, tests to focus more on critical thinking and less on rote knowledge.
“We need to end the SOLs as they currently are configured,” McAuliffe said. “We want our children thinking creatively, cognitively.”
The Cuccinelli campaign, meanwhile, returned to a recent talking point — lingering questions over McAuliffe’s investment in an annuity scheme carried out by estate planner Joseph Caramadre, who pleaded guilty to stealing the identities of terminally ill people.
“While Terry McAuliffe campaigns with President Clinton, we wonder whether the gubernatorial candidate will finally answer critical questions,” the Cuccinelli campaign said in an email. “At the top of the list of questions his campaign still refuses to answer is whether McAuliffe knowingly profited off of the death of others … It’s time for Terry McAuliffe to tell the truth.”
McAuliffe has said he was a “passive investor” along with others who unwittingly poured money into the scheme. His campaign has donated $47,000 to charity to cover his return and money Caramadre contributed to McAuliffe’s failed 2009 gubernatorial run.
Questions over Caramadre seemed far removed Wednesday at the Paramount. Charlottesville business owner Bob Stroh lined up more than a half-hour before the doors opened.
“We’re at a crossroads, and my feeling is that the Democrats have the best chance to end this polarization,” he said. “I am really terribly worried that this polarization seems to paralyze the country. That’s the most dangerous thing we’ve got going on right now.”
Wes Bellamy, who narrowly lost a bid earlier this year for one of two Democratic primary nominations to the Charlottesville City Council, said Wednesday’s event inspired him to put in time in the last week of the campaign.
“I really like when McAuliffe was talking about teacher pay,” he said. “It kind of got my batteries recharged a little bit … I am excited.”
Election Day is Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Below you will find reporter Aaron Richardson's live feed of the event (with images).
Tom Perriello: "Virginia can and must lead" in public education, women's rights, equality or LGBTQ.
-The stakes are high this election for women, people of color, and voting rights.
Jeff Painter, League of Conservation Voters Education offers that Ken Cuccinelli is "no friend of Virginia's environment."
Virginia State Senator Ralph Northam on the stage, shouts out that UVA is where his daughter graduated.
-"The Virginia way is promoting mainstream bipartisan solutions."
-Remarks on Virginia's "embarrassing" social agenda, and says that the state should not get between women and doctors.
-"Let's all dig in together, let's get out the broom and have a clean sweep and keep Virginia blue."
Secret service has entered the stage.
UVa climatologist Michael Mann has taken the stage.
-Virginia has "critical assets" in the research community. Cuccinelli is "dangerous for our researchers, and ... for our economy."
-Cuccinelli's criticism of his research is a "witch hunt." Says McAuliffe will embrace science and innovation.
Terry McAuliffe and Bill Clinton have taken the stage.
Terry McAuliffe addresses the crowd.
-Virginians need access to education, quality healthcare, job opportunities. Cites experience as a 14-year-old driveway paver.
-Virginia was lucky to have Michael Mann at UVa ... Cuccinelli "comes from a different place."
-McAuliffe is quoting a myriad of newspapers criticizing Cuccinelli's pursuit of Mann's research.
-Mentions education again along with creating jobs. He calls the opponents "the tea party ticket."
-"I promise as governor, we are not going to take a dime out of our public schools, folks."
-Says the SOL test should end as they currently exist. "We want our children thinking creatively, cognitively."
-Supports prisoners having the right to vote restored.
-He quotes Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, "This is the most conservative, ideologically driven ticket we have ever seen in this state."
-We must be a state where gay Virginians are treated equally.
-He is introducing Bill Clinton.
Former President Bill Clinton.
-If Cuccinelli gets elected, "Virginian will be a much more dangerous place to get sick in."
-"I think after he has been your governor for a year, half the people who voted against him will wonder what they were thinking."
-This race has become a symbol/metaphor for the situation in Washington, case in point being the government shutdown.
-Struggle is how to respond to the challenges we face all over the world.
-"Median family income is lower today than it was the day I left office, and that was a long time ago."
-McAuliffe wants to embrace change to build the economy, and to deal with challenges. Cuccinelli blames the government.
-McAuliffe's willingness to make a deal sorely needed in politics.
-"I spent a lifetime dealing with this. This is an old fight in new clothes. But this old fight has a whole new set of consequences."
-On the gridlock: "When steam is coming out of your ears, light bulbs can't come on in your brain."
With the remarks over, Clinton and McAuliffe leave the stage at Paramount.