STERLING, Va. — Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Monday demanded President Barack Obama fire his Health and Human Services chief over the flawed rollout of the nation’s new law as he worked to steady his footing in his gubernatorial campaign complicated by a government shutdown that damaged his Republican Party.
With just two weeks before Election Day, Cuccinelli is trying to shift his campaign away from the now-over government shutdown that hurt the GOP brand and back to issues that can fire up this state’s conservative base.
Asked about the shutdown, he declined to take a position on the compromise that ended a 16-day standoff.
Instead, he rallied against the Democrats’ health care law, the Environmental Protection Agency and government regulations, favorite pariahs among rank-and-file conservatives whose support Cuccinelli will need if he is to come from behind.
“You can’t salvage something that is fundamentally broken,” Cuccinelli said of the health care law, whose first weeks have been marred by technical failures.
Hours before Cuccinelli spoke, Obama addressed the health law’s problems from the White House’s Rose Garden.
“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Obama said. “Nobody is more frustrated than I am.”
Not good enough, Cuccinelli said.
“I believe that President Obama ought to fire (Health and Human Services Secretary) Kathleen Sebelius,” he said to applause.
“Congress should legally pass a one-year delay of the individual mandate,” he added.
Early voting was already underway, although both campaigns worry the undeniably negative tone of the campaign might further depress turnout. The government shutdown complicated the race in a state rich with federal workers and others whose livelihoods are tied to government contracts.
An NBC News poll last week found 39 percent of Virginians said they or a family member has been affected by the shutdown. And 54 percent blame Republicans for the shutdown.
“I worry about everything. You know, I’m a candidate. I try not to worry myself to death over it,” said Cuccinelli, who declined to say if he supported the compromise that reopened the government after a 16-day standoff.
He made clear it had nothing to do with him: “My role isn’t to address any of that directly. … It played out here across the river from us.”
In a statement, McAuliffe said his rival lacked leadership.
“Once again, he has put tea party ideology above what is best for Virginia,” McAuliffe said. “When Washington gridlock is hurting Virginia families, ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t cut it.”
Cuccinelli, an unapologetic conservative, may have little choice but to make a play for the Republican base. Polling in Virginia show Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe ahead but voters sour on their choices. The unrelenting negative advertisements have left both major-party candidates in a position where neither is viewed all that positively.
That NBC News poll last week found Cuccinelli slipping behind McAuliffe, 46 percent to 38 percent among likely voters. The poll found McAuliffe leading, 43 percent to 38 percent before the shutdown.
Some 54 percent of poll respondents have a negative view of Cuccinelli. McAuliffe is viewed unfavorably by 43 percent of likely voters.
Election turnout is expected to be less than half of all state registered voters and both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe are trying to inspire their most ardent supporters.
That’s why Cuccinelli appeared with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, two favorites among conservatives. He also had attorneys general from West Virginia and Georgia on hand Monday to vouch for his conservative credentials. Next week, he’s due to campaign with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a tea party darling and potential 2016 presidential contender.
For McAullife, who did not have a public campaign event on Monday, he’s eyeing perhaps the biggest draws in Democratic politics: the Clintons.
Former President Bill Clinton, a longtime McAuliffe pal, is scheduled to visit the state next weekend and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined McAuliffe last weekend.
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