ANNANDALE, Va. (AP) — The entire nation is watching the state's election for governor, Vice President Joe Biden said Monday, adding that a critical decision is at stake: whether Virginians choose progress or turn back the clock on women, gays and the middle class.
Offering generic praise for Democrat Terry McAuliffe as smart, tough and grounded, Biden reserved his fervor for McAuliffe's opponent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, whom he lambasted as the "loudest voice in America" opposing women's access to health care. He called Virginia a bellwether for the nation, calling the bitter race to replace outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell a major fight between the new face of progress in the U.S. and the "faces of the new Republican tea party."
"A tea party whose social recidivism is outdone only by its hostility to science and technology, innovation and scholarship," Biden said, "led by a candidate whose views on women — you know them well — but I think it's fair to say are from another era."
The outsize profile of Tuesday's election in Virginia — one of just two states holding gubernatorial elections this year — was on full display as top-tier political figures shuttled into the state to help McAuliffe and Cuccinelli make their closing pitch to voters. As Biden was revving up McAuliffe's volunteers in a backyard in Annandale, Cuccinelli was making his way to Warrenton for a rally with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who like Biden is a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
A day earlier, President Barack Obama took his motorcade to Arlington to rally for McAuliffe in a high school gymnasium. And Cuccinelli planned his final campaign rally with former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a hero of the libertarian wing of the GOP and a 2012 White House candidate.
Biden likened Cuccinelli to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican whose vehement opposition to Obama's health care law has become a White House headache, saying the attorney general and his tea party brethren were "the antithesis of change and progress." But in another corner of the state, Biden's visit provided fodder for Cuccinelli as he sought to make Tuesday's election for governor a referendum on Obama's health overhaul.
Cuccinelli, speaking to his supporters in Winchester, said the Obama and Biden visits helped crystallize for voters how disastrous the law has been for Virginia — and for McAuliffe's own prospects.
"I'm scared to death about what Obamacare is doing to Virginians. Terry McAuliffe is scared to death what Obamacare is doing to Terry McAuliffe," Cuccinelli said. "Tomorrow, we need to have his fears fulfilled."
As Virginia's attorney general, he was the first to file a lawsuit trying to declare the federal health care law unconstitutional. While the Supreme Court rejected his argument, he has not stopped his crusade against it.
McAuliffe has embraced the law and has pledged to use it to expand Medicaid in the state to provide health coverage for 400,000 Virginians. The federal government picks up the entire tab for expansion in the first few years, with the state picking up a portion of it in later years.
In advertising, direct mail and phone calls, the health care law is the top issue both candidates are pushing.
With New Jersey being the only other state holding an election for governor, Virginia could hold clues about voter attitudes and both parties' messages heading into the 2014 midterm elections when control of Congress will be at stake. Democrats see Virginia as a test case for other competitive states and are eager for a win there to show their approach to governing is resonating with voters.
Polls show McAuliffe ahead and campaign finance reports show a dramatically lopsided dynamic, with television airtime tilted in McAuliffe's favor by a 10-to-1 margin.
That has led Cuccinelli to focus on reaching conservative voters almost exclusively. He uses his campaign stops to energize his own backers, many of whom disapprove of the president and detest his health care law.
The race is going to be decided by the few Virginians who choose to vote. The state Board of Elections chief says turnout could be as low as 30 percent of registered voters, and the campaigns see 40 percent turnout as the goal.
"There's only one place the tea party can compete with us, and that is they do turn out their base," Biden said. "Don't take this for granted, man."
Elliott reported from Winchester, Va.