Bill Clinton Stumps For McAuliffe In Virginia Governor Race

Two decades ago, Terry McAuliffe was a top fundraiser for President Bill Clinton. He was even finance chair for Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. Now, the ex-president is returning the favor, campaigning with McAuliffe as he runs for governor of Virginia. The two are on a bus tour of some of the state's most conservative regions.

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Political professionals like to keep an eye on the only two governors races to come year after each presidential election. In 2005, Democrats won the races in New Jersey and Virginia. They went on to dominate congressional races the year after.

INSKEEP: In 2009, Republicans won both of these races, starting a winning streak that went on as they captured the House of Representatives. This year, Republican Chris Christie is favored to win New Jersey, but a Democrat is leading in Virginia.

MONTAGNE: Democrat Terry McAuliffe is running against Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. McAuliffe is getting support from an old friend - former President Bill Clinton.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Terry McAuliffe helped Bill Clinton get elected president twice. He raised money for his library and for Hillary Clintons Senate and presidential campaigns. Now the Clintons are returning the favor. Hillary Clinton has already campaigned for McAuliffe and now Bill is on the trail. The first stop: a VFW hall in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Dale City. McAuliffe set the theme, tying his opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, to the Tea Party and the recent government shutdown that hit the thousands of federal workers in the state.

TERRY MCAULIFFE: He refused to stand up for Virginia jobs and against the Ted Cruz's shutdown strategy. Ken Cuccinelli was apparently more concerned about his reputation with the Tea Party than with ending the government shutdown that was undermining the Virginia economy.

NAYLOR: Clinton called McAuliffe his good, good friend. He did not mention Cuccinelli by name and said a big reason for what he called the incredible political division in the country is that in non-presidential election years what he labeled a whole different America shows up to vote than in the presidential years.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: And those of us who want the country to come together and move forward, those of you who love Virginia and want it to come together and move forward, have got to care as much about this election as you did the election in 2012. That is what is at issue here.

(APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: Clinton's message inspired Dumfries resident Betty Palmer.

BETTY PALMER: He got us fired up so we're going to bring more people out to vote. Because like he says, it's an off season and we've got to promote this, you know.

NAYLOR: Meanwhile, Republican Cuccinelli was doing his best to rally his supporters, stopping by a phone bank at his Richmond headquarters, where volunteer Dick Lessey indicated he was doing more than making phone appeals.

DICK LESSEY: My wife and I are praying for you and your family.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI: Well, keep it up. We've got 10 more days and...

LESSEY: Not just four hours and 43 minutes. Yeah, not just for the election...

CUCCINELLI: Yeah, well, I appreciate it.

LESSEY: ...but for everything in your life.

CUCCINELLI: Yeah. Well, thank you. I appreciate it.

NAYLOR: While education, transportation and the role of government are all issues in the Virginia campaign, the race has mostly been a series of attacks. McAuliffe says Cuccinelli's opposition to abortion rights, his lawsuits against the EPA and ObamaCare are too extreme for Virginia. Cuccinelli has gone after McAuliffe's ethics and says the Democrat does not represent the state's values.

CUCCINELLI: If we want to import D.C. politics and tactics to Richmond, Terry McAuliffe will do it for us. Of course we'll also get good Detroit financial policy too. And we'll get Hollywood values too. And Bloomberg New York City gun control. And no more Big Gulps, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

CUCCINELLI: No more Big Gulps. They're coming for that next, as soon as they get your guns.

NAYLOR: While demographic shifts, especially in Northern Virginia, helped President Obama carry the state twice, turning it purple if not quite blue, Cuccinelli can count on support from voters like truck driver Jimmy Ashburn,

JIMMY ASHBURN: Gun rights, gun rights, and to me that's a world, you know, that's a big right. That's our right to have guns.

NAYLOR: Cuccinelli will campaign today with Senator Rand Paul, who may help Cuccinelli win support from libertarians who are now backing that party's candidate, Robert Sarvis. McAuliffe, meanwhile, has more stops planned with his friend Bill Clinton.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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