Texas Gov. Rick Perry is scheduled to lend a high-profile boost to Virginia Republicans Wednesday at a fundraiser with Gov. Bob McDonnell. But state Democrats have seized on the appearance to link their GOP opponents to polarizing comments the 2012 presidential candidate has made about Social Security.
Organizers said they would have been content with a few hundred attendees, but more than 1,000 people are now expected to crowd into the Greater Richmond Convention Center for a luncheon with Mr. Perry in a state widely seen as crucial for President Obama's re-election chances next year. Contributions for the highly touted event start at $55 for an individual ticket. They range up to $10,000 for a reserved table for 10, six tickets to a pre-lunch governors' meet-and-greet and two tickets to the governors' head table.
"We're thrilled with the response to this event," said Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia.
Democrats have also taken notice.
Former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine held a forum on Social Security in Richmond on Tuesday morning that his campaign billed as a "prebuttal" to Mr. Perry's visit, given the Texas governor's remarks equating Social Security to a "Ponzi scheme."
Mr. Perry in a presidential debate Monday among GOP hopefuls did not back off the characterization, but he also said he would not favor altering the system for current retirees or for those about to retire.
Mr. Kaine likened the system to a social compact and said he opposes proposals to privatize Social Security, citing the volatility of the stock market. He also used the remarks as a platform to challenge his likely Republican opponent, former Virginia Gov. George Allen, whom he said cast such a vote when he previously served in the Senate before he was defeated in 2006 by Democrat Jim Webb.
"There is a will to do the same thing right now among Republicans," Mr. Kaine said. "It's a pretty good bet that once somebody has shown how they will vote on an issue, they'll vote that same way when it comes up again."
Allen spokesman Bill Riggs, though, shot back.
"George Allen believes we need to work together to protect Social Security for seniors and those nearing retirement and preserve it for future generations," Mr. Riggs said, adding that Mr. Kaine was trying to use "reckless and false scare tactics."
Mr. Allen's vote in the Senate was to provide people the option to "voluntarily own" at least part of their benefits, not to privatize the program, Mr. Riggs said.
A number of Democratic state senators, delegates and candidates signed a letter to Mr. McDonnell, dated Tuesday, asking him whether his appearance with Mr. Perry amounted to an endorsement of the Texas governor's "outrageous comments" on Social Security.
Mr. McDonnell said on WNIS-Radio in Norfolk earlier Tuesday that long-term changes to the system are necessary, while stopping short of specifically advocating any particular fix.
"I think the whole idea is personal responsibility. Whose responsibility is it ultimately to plan for your retirement?" he said. "Well, it's yours. It's your family's."
Later in the day, McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin provided a clarification of the governor's remarks.
"Governor McDonnell strongly supports broad reforms to the system, including raising the eligibility age for future recipients, in order to make certain that future recipients can continue to count on this important federal retirement program," Mr. Martin said.
The Tuesday back-and-forth over entitlements aside, the event will nonetheless bring together Mr. Perry and Mr. McDonnell, friends by means of theRepublican Governors Association, and could fuel speculation about a potential 2012 GOP presidential ticket.
Political observers say that while Mr. McDonnell would be on anyone's short list for vice president — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney himself has already said as much — he could end up being edged out by Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, a tea party hero elected in the Republican wave in 2010.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said that Mr. Rubio was "in first place by a mile," but that Mr. McDonnell is certainly in the discussion.
"You can't run for it, but he's done a good job of hinting that it would take him about three microseconds to say yes," Mr. Sabato said.
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