Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton formally endorsed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Saturday, signifying her first high-profile public foray into elective politics since leaving her post earlier this year.
Mrs. Clinton helped fire up an overflow crowd of an estimated 800 people at the State Theater in Falls Church there to support Mr. McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee Chairman and prolific fundraiser who was a rainmaker for President Clinton during the 1990s.
The event came slightly more than two weeks out from election day on Nov. 5 and at a time when public polls show Mr. McAuliffe with a modest lead and a hefty fundraising advantage over Republican Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II.
“We’ve been in so many different situations together,” she said. “Terry’s family is both his first love and his greatest accomplishment. Nothing’s more important, and that’s just the kind of man he is.”
“What you see is truly what he is all the time,” she added. “He has maybe the biggest heart and the most open mind of anyone you’ll ever meet.”
Mrs. Clinton slammed the “scorched earth” politics that she said led to the recent partial shutdown of the federal government, but her remarks were comparatively civil in a race that’s become associated with constant mudslinging between Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Cuccinelli, with both sides accusing the other of peddling outrageous falsehoods and painting each other as being unfit to run for high office.
“He will work around-the-clock — you will never find a more energetic chief executive,” she said. “He will be a 24/7 governor for Virginia.”
The gathering was billed as a “Women for Terry” event, as Mr. McAuliffe, who managed Mrs. Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid and lost in a three-way Democratic primary for Virginia governor four years ago, looks to boost his already sizable advantage among female voters. Mr. McAuliffe has held leads at or close to 20 percentage points among women in recent polls of likely voters.
“Let me be crystal clear — I trust women to make their own personal decisions about their own personal health,” he said. “We know that when women vote, Virginia wins.”
Mr. McAuliffe said he wants his three daughters to have the same opportunities any man would, touting support for cracking down on pay discrimination against women and expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.
Mr. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, was scheduled to spend Saturday at a rally in Lynchburg with former Arkansas Gov. and erstwhile presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
Cuccinelli campaign spokesman Richard T. Cullen said Mr. McAuliffe’s event in Northern Virginia simply proved that he’s a full-throated supporter of peddling access to the well-heeled and growing government.
“If there was any doubt that Terry McAuliffe would bring Washington, D.C., big-government politics to Richmond, today is your proof,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Cuccinelli delivered the Republicans’ weekly address to the nation, focusing on what he described as the perils of President Obama’s health care overhaul and calling the botched roll-out of major parts of Obamacare that started Oct. 1 an embarrassment for the country.