Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who has led the state’s fight against President Obama’s health care law, warned Thursday that Republicans would be “effectively giving up the issue” if they tap Mitt Romney as their presidential nominee.
The claim echoes the message of Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney’s chief opponent for the party’s nod, who has said the health care law the former Massachusetts governor signed is too close to Democrats’ national law to leave Mr. Romney any room to criticize it.
“One thing that people voting as between Romney and Santorum is, they’re deciding whether to give up that issue,” Mr. Cuccinelli said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.
“I mean, for Romney to go out and say, ‘I’d repeal it,’ is fine, and I believe him, but it doesn’t have the power politically to motivate people to vote or volunteer that someone who has been a permanent opponent does. I mean, you are effectively giving that issue up if you select Romney as the nominee, and we may be doing that,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
Three months into the nomination race, Mr. Romney holds a significant 495-252 edge over Mr. Santorum in the chase for the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
However, exit polls have shown that Mr. Santorum has had more success winning the support of self-identified “very conservative” voters and those who say they strongly support the tea party — two groups that abhor the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that Mr. Obama signed into law in 2010.
While Mr. Cuccinelli has not endorsed anyone in the presidential race, he did vote in the Virginia Republican primary on Super Tuesday — though he refused to say whether he supported Mr. Romney or Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the only two choices on the state’s primary ballot.
The 43-year-old attorney general has become one of the leading state-level advocates for federalism and has spearheaded the legal challenge to the federal health care overhaul, as well as against the Environmental Protection Agency’s claim that it can regulate fossil-fuel burning as pollution based on the threat to people from global warming.
The efforts have earned him national recognition, made him a rising star of the conservative movement and boosted him as he decided to run for governor next year — pitting him against Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
Mr. Cuccinelli said he is now hoping to get a seat in the audience at the U.S. Supreme Court later this month, when the justices hear three days of arguments over the sweeping health care overhaul. The challenge primarily centers on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which requires every American to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty for not doing so.
“The question there is, does Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce allow them to compel you to buy health insurance?” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “Our side obviously says, ‘no,’ the federal government says ‘yes,’ and there has never been a case like this ever before in the over 200 years since the Constitution was passed.”
With that as a backdrop, Mr. Cuccinelli said that it would be risky for Republicans take the potent issues of health care off the table, arguing that it was the “biggest political club” of the 2010 election, when the GOP won eight of Virginia’s 11 congressional seats.
Two years later, he said, the law still stands as a powerful symbol of what he called the Obama administration’s overreach.
“From a conservative standpoint, the downside of losing this race is almost too much to contemplate,” he said. “This president and this administration are the biggest lawbreakers to run the federal government in our lifetimes. They are trampling the states. They are suffocating economic opportunity the way they are functioning.”
The program was taped Thursday and is scheduled to air Sunday.