Obama joins the action in Virginia governor's race

WASHINGTON - President Obama joined the parade of personalities campaigning for onetime Democratic Party chief Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor's race, a closely watched swing-state contest that could test both parties' strategy for next year's midterm election.

At a Sunday afternoon rally in a Virginia suburb just across the Potomac River from Washington, Obama cast the Republican Party as hijacked by the far right wing and its ideological aims.

Northern Virginia, home to tens of thousands of federal workers and civilian contractors, was hit especially hard by the 16-day shutdown of the federal government in a fight over the budget and the healthcare law.

"You’ve seen an extreme faction of the Republican Party that has shown again and again and again that they’re willing to hijack their party, the country and the economy … if they don’t get 100% of what they want," Obama told the estimated 1,600 people gathered at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.

"This isn’t just speculation," he said. "You just saw it last month. Here in Virginia, you saw the pain of the first government shutdown in 17 years."

Democrats across the country are likely to repeat the message in races next year, as they try to capitalize on polls that showed the public largely blamed the GOP for the shutdown and the economic distress it caused.

But Republicans believe the advantage may be short-lived. They are hoping to make the election a referendum on Obama's Affordable Care Act, not the government shutdown.

Both the bungled rollout of the federal insurance website under the new healthcare law and accusations that the president misled Americans about the law's effect are taking a toll on his approval ratings and giving the GOP time to rebound.

The campaign of McAuliffe's Republican opponent, state Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, called the Obama-led rally a "grand celebration of Obamacare."

"The president’s visit is an important reminder of Terry McAuliffe’s blind support of his big-government agenda starting with Obamacare, which was deceptively sold and is hurting Virginians," said Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix.

McAuliffe, the brash former party official and power fundraiser who has been leading in the polls, has for weeks blasted Cuccinelli as out of the mainstream. A barrage of negative ads from the McAuliffe campaign and his allies have targeted Cucinelli for his opposition to abortion and gun control.

On Sunday, McAuliffe said Cuccinelli was atop the Republican Party's "tea party ticket" and tried to link his opponent to Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texan who pushed congressional Republicans to take the hard-line strategy that forced the government shutdown.

Virginia's sprawling northern suburbs are receptive territory for the Democrats' message. The fast-growing region has driven the state's shift from deep red to increasingly blue. Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012 by ramping up turnout among young people and African Americans, and by appealing to middle-class women.

The governor's race has drawn a string of national political figures and celebrities. Former President Clinton and possible 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton have campaigned for McAuliffe, a close friend from their time in the White House.

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ron Paul, both potential GOP presidential candidates in 2016, are scheduled to campaign for Cuccinelli before election day on Tuesday.

Obama joked that he "was tired of letting other people have all the fun" in the Virginia race.

"I thought, 'I want to get in on the action,'" he said.



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