Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II fired up a crowd of several hundred fellow Republicans and tea party members Tuesday with plenty of rousing talk about keeping the federal government at bay and fighting to maintain the commonwealth’s tradition of limited government.
The Virginia attorney general, joined by nationally syndicated talk show host Mark Levin, appeared at a rally in Sterling and marked Constitution Day by boasting of his legal challenges to President Obama’s health-care overhaul and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a way of fighting for limited government.
“Get government out of the way, and you will watch the American economy explode,” Cuccinelli said, invoking the names of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other Virginia-born patriots. “Those principles that they built this nation on are eternal and universal. They apply everywhere and all the time. They apply as much in 2013 as they did in 1776.”
Cuccinelli also painted his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, as a creature of inside-the-Beltway politics who would exacerbate partisan tensions in Virginia. The loudest applause came when he spoke of his support for school choice that would allow students trapped in failing schools in places such as Petersburg to attend other schools.
“A child in Virginia — a child in Petersburg — trapped in the boundaries of a failing school, can’t pursue happiness if they can’t get a decent education. And right now, their own government blocks them from alternatives that would allow them to pursue happiness,” Cuccinelli said. “We don’t promise outcomes, we promise opportunity. And this is a classic example where we can expand and make real the promise of opportunity of government policy, and that being school choice.”
He urged the crowd of nearly 250 people to help him overcome a substantial campaign finance deficit by redoubling their efforts to knock on doors and work the phones, saying Loudoun County would be critical to victory in the closing days of the race.
“We have got to make Northern Virginia a battleground for first principles in this race,” Cuccinelli said.
While Cuccinelli was working his base, McAuliffe was in Virginia Beach collecting an endorsement from the city’s Republican mayor, Will Sessoms. McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said the two events offered a snapshot of the contrasts between the candidates, and accused Cuccinelli of fully embracing his tea party roots and only pretending to focus on mainstream Virginians. The Democratic Party of Virginia highlighted remarks by Levin that they said demonstrated his extremism, such as accusing Obama of being a Muslim Brotherhood “sympathizer.”
Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax), in an interview before the rally, said the gathering was proof that Cuccinelli and his backers were out of step with a Virginia that had evolved into a swing state. Marsden criticized Cuccinelli for focusing on his core supporters instead of trying to broaden his message to be more inclusive. Marsden also said the definition of liberty promoted by Cuccinelli and tea party members leaves out homosexuals, women seeking abortions and others. And Marsden took a poke at the anti-government tenor of the rally and its supporters.
“The degree of fear and paranoia and misinformation that comes out of the tea party, it’s just chilling,” Marsden said.
But several attendees at the rally were unapologetic about a conservative activist at the top of the GOP’s statewide ticket.
“We have someone who’s not afraid to stand up for Virginia. We have someone who’s not afraid to tell the federal government, ‘Get out — this is ours,’ ” Loudoun County Supervisor Susan M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) said in her introduction of Cuccinelli. “One thing I told a group of tea party folks the other night when I was at a meeting, I said, ‘Ken Cuccinelli was tea party before there was a tea party, fighting for our rights here in Virginia.’ ”
People brought yellow lawn chairs with the motto “Don’t tread on me,” and there was at least one tri-corner hat in the crowd. John Whitbeck, 10th District Republican Committee chairman, kicked off the festivities by telling a joke about how the head of the Jewish religion presented the pope with a long, elaborate document that the Jewish leader said was a bill for the last supper.
Cuccinelli highlighted his victory against the EPA after coordinating with the Democrat-led Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to fight the agency’s attempt to regulate storm water runoff. He said the move saved Northern Virginia taxpayers millions of dollars. He was also critical of the EPA’s forthcoming regulations on carbon emissions, saying they could cripple the economy in Virginia’s coal fields.
And he blamed Obamacare as an example of federal overreach that has forced companies to hire only part-time employees and has hindered economic growth. He attacked McAuliffe for saying he would not sign a budget unless the General Assembly agreed to expand Medicaid. And he introduced Levin as his “favorite media mogul.”
Cameras and smart phones were raised to take pictures as Levin took the podium.
“This is my county. This is my state. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to watch Terry McAuliffe be governor of Virginia,” Levin said. “Now, if he wants to run for governor of Maryland, I understand it,” Levin said. “But this is Virginia, and we have to draw a line somewhere in Virginia, and we’re drawing it right here.”
Addressing opponents’ views that Cuccinelli’s blind spot to governmental overreach are his views on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, Levin suggested that Obamacare, with its vast intrusion into health care, would be worse. “[McAuliffe] talks about Ken Cuccinelli in the bedroom. It’s McAuliffe and the liberals in your bedroom. And since when are traditional family values some radical anti-American position?” Levin thundered.
“Amen!” several said. Afterwards, he was thronged for autographs and pictures.
Ronald Wilcox, an organizer with the Northern Virginia Tea Party, said it was time for “establishment Republicans” to heed their own message over the years and rally around the GOP ticket. “I’d like to quote them back to themselves on party unity. I would say, ‘Back a candidate who believes in the Republican creed,’” Wilcox said.
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This article originally appeared on September 17, 2013.