Cuccinelli banks war on Obamacare will buoy struggling campaign

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RICHMOND — Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II last week rolled out what he believes is a game-changer in his Republican race for governor against Democrat Terry McAuliffe: the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

His loathing for the Democrat-passed law is in many ways his calling card. It was the first action to put him in the national limelight and rocketed him to superhero status among the nation’s conservative tea party movement when he became the first state attorney general to file a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality — just one day after Mr. Obama signed it.

On Tuesday, it became a major feature of Mr. Cuccinelli’s struggling campaign.

It debuted alongside a federal shutdown with Congress stalemated over Republican demands that government funding be tied to defunding the health care act and dismaying headlines about the chaotic first day of the act’s “exchanges,” or online health insurance markets.

Mr. Cuccinelli long ago set that date — Oct. 1 — to inaugurate a series of “Obamacare Roundtables” across the state in which small clusters of conservative businesspeople would add their horror stories about the law to those Mr. Cuccinelli has honed for years.

It’s a job killer, Mr. Cuccinelli told seven Goochland County business leaders at Thursday’s roundtable in a suburban Richmond office complex.

The law’s looming mandate that companies that employ 50 or more people who average 30 hours a week or more provide health care benefits has forced some large employers, including Home Depot and Virginia’s Community College system, to cut full-time workers to part-time — 29 hours or less — to avoid the costs.

Mr. Cuccinelli calls the 30-hour rule — delayed for a year by the president — “the most destructive single economic regulation I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Christopher J. LaCivita, Mr. Cuccinelli’s chief political adviser, had choreographed the rollout for months, and said it would remain at the campaign’s forefront for the duration. He and Mr. Cuccinelli both sense that the campaign is surfing the tide of public disenchantment with the law that will only grow and yield decisive dividends in a close election Nov. 5.

The act had a premiere that charitably can be called rough.

Stories abounded of millions of frustrated consumers who encountered swamped telephone lines and websites that floundered because bandwidth fell short of startup demand.

In that, however, lies a risk inherent in Mr. Cuccinelli’s late-game gambit.

Demand for the service was huge enough to confound the information technology folks who erroneously reckoned the system was ready for launch.

Bob Denton, a Virginia Tech professor specializing in political communications, said a campaign aimed at the health care reform law could be effective at shoring up Mr. Cuccinelli’s conservative base of support, but questioned its effectiveness beyond that.

“It could activate his base voters who’ve said, ‘Well, I’m not too sure about him,’ and prove his bona fides, but I’m not sure it’s going to help him get the independents, the women or the youth vote,” Mr. Denton said. “One of the problems I see is linking Obamacare to McAuliffe. If McAuliffe’s elected, he’s going to be governor. He’s not going to be in Congress.”

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