Democrat Terry McAuliffe spent Sunday alongside President Obama making a broad-based appeal for Virginia voters to turn out at the polls, while Republican Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II held a series of targeted rallies to fire up his base during the final weekend of campaigning in the governor’s race.
For Mr. McAuliffe, the appearance with Mr. Obama was the culmination of an escalating effort to win over moderate Virginians and drive up voter turnout — generally thought to favor the Democrat. He appeared two weeks ago with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and last week toured Virginia with former President Bill Clinton.
“You’ve got to finish the job,” Mr. Obama told an estimated 1,600 people packed into a gymnasium at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County on Sunday. “Nothing makes me more nervous than when my supporters start feeling too confident, so I want to put the fear of God in all of you. … This race will be close, because past races in Virginia have always been close.”
But Mr. Cuccinelli’s campaign cast the event as “a grand celebration of Obamacare,” as the administration works to deal with problems of people trying to enroll in insurance plans through HealthCare.gov. The Republican has seized on accusations that Mr. Obama misled the public when he said repeatedly during the debate over his reform plan that if people liked their health insurance plans and doctors, they could keep them.
Down in public polls, Mr. Cuccinelli — the first state attorney general in the country to sue over the law after it was enacted in March 2010 — has been pinning his hopes on public dissatisfaction with the law translating to energy for his campaign and has taken the message to his base.
“This is a referendum on Obamacare,” Mr. Cuccinelli told a crowd of supporters outside a GOP office in Prince William County on Saturday, drawing scattered catcalls when he mentioned the president’s upcoming appearance with Mr. McAuliffe.
The theme was the same at weekend appearances around the state, with Mr. Cuccinelli scheduled for a series of short jaunts to airports in Harrisonburg, Martinsville, Lynchburg and Roanoke before a rally in Abingdon on Sunday evening.
Turnout is expected to be crucial in what has been a contentious and mean-spirited race. Surveys have shown Mr. McAuliffe holding a lead in the mid- to high single digits. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis takes about 10 percent of the vote, mostly from the Republican.
Surveys also have suggested that Mr. McAuliffe has done a better job than his opponent of holding together voters in his own party — and of appealing to independents, although some show the gap tightening in the closing days of the campaign.
Mr. Cuccinelli, who has insisted that the race is closer than polls indicate, dismissed the results.
“Polls that come out now are almost useless, because they’re lagging indicators, except Election Day,” he told reporters on the trail. “So we’re really close enough to Election Day that that’s the one that counts and we’re focused on turning people out.”
In 2008, Virginia’s Electoral College votes went to a Democrat for the first time in more than 40 years, thanks in large part to the energy Mr. Obama’s campaign inspired among young people and minorities — voting blocs that generally turn out at significantly lower levels in non-presidential years.
Just a year after Mr. Obama’s historic win, Republican Bob McDonnell won the gubernatorial election by nearly 20 percentage points with drastically lower voter participation.
Mr. McAuliffe told supporters that the stakes are too high this year to let that happen again.
“The question in this election, folks, is very simple: Will the mainstream bipartisan majority in Virginia be drowned out by the tea party?” he said. “If mainstream Virginians from both parties don’t turn out to vote, you’re letting the tea party decide Virginia’s future. That’s why I need your help now more than ever. We are down to two days to go, folks.”
Mr. McAuliffe also got in-person support Sunday from actress Kerry Washington, the star of the hit ABC show “Scandal,” who came to Arlington fresh off an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
But the headliner was clearly Mr. Obama, who had been conspicuously absent from the Democrat’s corner in the race.
In 2008, Mr. McAuliffe was working feverishly to derail Mr. Obama’s bid for the presidency as chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. On Sunday, however, the president gave his full-throated support to the businessman and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“This is a man who knows how to work and he knows how to push through obstacles and he cares deeply about the opportunities that this country has given him, and he wants to make sure those opportunities are there for everybody — not just for a few,” Mr. Obama said. “He knows what it’s like to work hard.”
The president also praised Mr. McAuliffe for encouraging Congress to vote to end the partial shutdown of the federal government last month, saying there are practical consequences to politicians operating ideologically.
“You deserve a governor who wants to move this commonwealth forward — not backwards,” Mr. Obama said.
Many Cuccinelli supporters, including his brother Kevin, a medical doctor from Colorado, protested outside the Arlington event Sunday afternoon.
On Monday, the Republican is scheduled to continue his efforts to shore up his base, with scheduled appearances alongside Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, in Warrenton and Culpeper. The Republican’s play to woo libertarian voters attracted to Mr. Sarvis also continues, with a prime-time event Monday night featuring former Rep. Ron Paul in Richmond.
Mr. McAuliffe is scheduled to appear with Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Monday morning in Annandale for the final full day of the campaign.
• David Sherfinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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