RICHMOND - U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday cast the Virginia governor's race as not only a fight between Republican Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, but as a battle for the idea of American exceptionalism in an uncertain world.
Mr. Rubio, a Florida Republican and possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, headlined a fundraiser at the downtown Richmond Marriott to lend Mr. Cuccinelli some high-profile help as he tries to keep pace with Mr. McAuliffe over the last seven weeks of the race.
Mr. Rubio said the election is not just about beating a Democrat and winning a governor's seat, noting that the media often paints campaigns in a superficial, "horse race" light.
"But in politics, it has real consequences in the lives of real people," he said. "And I cannot imagine a time in my lifetime where the consequences have been higher."
He said that such an election will reverberate even beyond America's borders.
"I would ask you to envision a world without an exceptional America," he told the crowd, saying that if America declines, nothing — not the United Nations, not China, and not "Putin's Russia" — can replace it.
The Democrats, he said, are pouring money into the race from all over the country to try to convince Americans that the government is the cure to all that ails the U.S.
"For them, it's about convincing America that government is the solution to all of our problems," he said. "You pick a problem, they've got a government program to solve it. You pick an issue; they've got a tax they claim will make it better."
"This is a precursor for what's going to happen in 2014 and, after that, in 2016," he continued, alluding to the midterm elections and the next presidential election cycle. "There's still going to be an America after Barack Obama, by the way. There's going to be a lot of [messes] to clean up. A lot of dreams to be restored. An entire economy to be reinvigorated. But we can't wait until 2016 to start the work. We've got to start now, we've got to start in Virginia, we've got to start with Ken Cuccinelli, and I encourage you to do everything you can to make that happen."
Mr. Rubio spent much of his time telling his own personal story as the son of Cuban immigrants who were able to make better lives for themselves in America.
"That's what's at stake today in American politics, and that's what's at stake in this race in Virginia," he said.
Mr. Cuccinelli said he first met Mr. Rubio in April 2010 during his initial run for the U.S. Senate in Florida, and was impressed with him then.
"He is one of the leaders of our party across the country, and it is an honor to have him here in the capital of Virginia in Richmond," Mr. Cuccinelli said. Mr. Rubio "has a unique ability to communicate conservative principles and tie in his personal story and his family's story. And it is inspiring to hear."
Mr. Cuccinelli also asked the crowd for a moment of silence in light of the ongoing situation involving the shootings at the Navy Yard in the District.
Recent polls have showed Mr. McAuliffe with a modest lead in the race, but on Monday Mr. Cuccinelli won the endorsement of TechPAC, the political arm of the Northern Virginia Technology Council. The endorsement was scheduled to be announced Friday, but The Washington Post reported that it was delayed after Mr. McAuliffe's campaign, among others, lobbied for the board to change its decision.
"The TechPAC board of trustees concluded that Ken Cuccinelli's experience in Virginia government, command of the issues, and knowledge of key technology priorities will serve him well as governor in working to ensure the Commonwealth remains a competitive and innovative global technology center," said Dendy Young, TechPAC Chairman and CEO of McLean Capital LLC.
The Technology Council itself said Monday that it would not be endorsing a candidate in the race, and that TechPAC's endorsement "may not itself reflect the views" of the council's membership.
In his remarks Monday, Mr. Cuccinelli accused Mr. McAuliffe of trying to "bully" the council into not giving him the endorsement. Mr. McAuliffe has argued throughout the campaign that Mr. Cuccinelli's positions on such social issues as abortion and gay marriage would drive businesses out of the state.
Mr. Cuccinelli said the endorsement ensures that such a "false theme" is "wiped out."
"It's wiped out. It's completely gutted," he told reporters after the luncheon. "It was never true in the first place, and now people who don't get to spend hours with me and hours with Terry McAuliffe, digging into us and asking questions, look to an organization that is not Republican, Democrat, independent or any of the other things but that did spend that time, that came out on a substantive basis for the candidate who was better prepared to answer questions to deal with policy issues, even where we didn't all agree, than the other candidate, and that was me. And that's what I think should matter to voters is the real meat of this and the reason for this endorsement. Not merely the fact of it but the reasons for it."
Mr. Cuccinelli also seized on comments from Mr. McAuliffe that he will not sign a budget unless it includes an expansion of Medicaid that is part of Obamacare, saying during his remarks that the Democrat is "prepared to shut down Virginia government" to expand the health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled.
A spokesman for Mr. McAuliffe's campaign said that Medicaid expansion is a top priority and that he hopes to work in a bipartisan manner to get it done.
"Ken Cuccinelli is once again trying to change the subject from his long record of putting his extreme agenda ahead of what is best for Virginians," spokesman Josh Schwerin said.
Mr. McAuliffe is expected to score a key endorsement Tuesday when the Republican mayor of Virginia Beach, the state's largest city, officially throws his support to the Democrat.
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