DALE CITY, Va. - Former President Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail Sunday on behalf of his longtime buddy, Terry McAuliffe, who has opened up a lead in the Virginia governor's race.
With little more than a week before Election Day on Nov. 5, McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli each have sought to energize their strongest supporters. McAuliffe is heavily outspending Cuccinelli on television ads, but turnout is expected to be low and the result could be decided by a few thousand votes.
It was a shift in roles for Clinton. For decades, it has been McAuliffe championing the personal and political futures of Bill Clinton and, later, his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now, he's here to pitch in during the campaign against Cuccinelli, the state attorney general.
Clinton predicted that Cuccinelli's supporters, who are deeply conservative and align to the small government, anti-tax tea party movement, would be reliable, and he urged Democrats to be just as motivated.
"Political extremism does have one political virtue," Clinton said. "Once you get people all torn up and upset, steam coming out of their ears, people will show up and vote."
Clinton planned other stops throughout the state with his longtime pal and fundraiser during the coming day. Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is considered a strong contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, used her first political event after stepping down as secretary of state to endorse McAuliffe earlier this month.
Cuccinelli's campaign sought to turn Clinton's star power among Democrats into another way to build enthusiasm among his conservative supporters. Even before the pair arrived at the veterans' hall in northern Virginia, Cuccinelli's campaign had already sent reporters a memo recounting the years of Clinton-McAuliffe collaboration for Democrats.
"As Terry McAuliffe spends the next few days travelling the state with Bill Clinton, Virginia voters should remember the troublesome space McAuliffe occupied as the middleman between the dangerous intersection of big-dollar special interest donors and high-ranking elected officials," the memo said. "The Commonwealth of Virginia neither needs nor deserves the McAuliffe-Clinton baggage."
What Republicans called "baggage" — questions over the Clintons' finances, Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern and his subsequent impeachment — seems to have faded for many voters. Bill Clinton's approval ratings have improved since he left the White House in 2001 and voters have not lost interest in Hillary Rodham Clinton since she stepped down as President Barack Obama's top diplomat earlier this year.
Every step Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken since leaving the State Department has been examined for its 2016 implications. And Bill Clinton's return to full-time campaigning — even if for only a few days — was sure to add to speculation about whether a Clinton could call the White House home again in 2017.
Democrats have been relentless in painting Cuccinelli — who is best known outside the state as the first to challenge President Barack Obama's health care law — as a political ideologue and not someone who is unwilling to compromise.
Clinton predicted that Cuccinelli as governor would impose his own deeply conservative views on the state at a time when compromise should be employed to build the economy.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Dale City, Virginia, contributed to this report.