GLOUCESTER, Va. (AP) — The race for Virginia governor on Friday became a contest about which candidate is more bipartisan — at least for the moment.
Terry McAuliffe would work with Republicans in the legislature and appoint them to his Cabinet, the Democratic nominee told GOP supporters. Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli said he too would work across the aisle and “would never close the door of the governor’s office to the Democrats.”
The duel pitches of bipartisanship come just days before Election Day and after a bitterly partisan few months. McAuliffe is leading in the polls, dominating television advertising and far outpacing Cuccinelli in fundraising. But turnout is expected to be low – perhaps as few as 30 percent of registered voters, the state Board of Elections chairman has warned – and that could be problematic for McAuliffe.
That’s why McAuliffe is working to win over Republicans and moderates who view Cuccinelli and his tea party ideals as too conservative or divisive. Cuccinelli called the tactic McAuliffe’s only option because “he doesn’t have anything positive to offer and it’s hard to rally around much more than the negative rhetoric that they’re putting out there.”
Indeed, the tone of the campaign has been decidedly negative and partisan on the airwaves and at events. Friday’s perhaps fleeting moment of compromise gave weary Virginia voters some respite from the millions of dollars in negative ads that have inundated them, turning many off completely.
“One of my top priorities will be to sit down with as many Republicans in the House and Senate (as possible),” McAuliffe said during a conference call with members of the party who support him.
“Breakfast, lunch, dinner … a drink – whatever,” McAuliffe said later, reiterating he’d let Republicans pick the venue.
In a television ad released later in the day, McAuliffe pledged: “I’m determined to be a governor who finds common ground with Democrats, Republicans and independents. That’s the Virginia way.”
Cuccinelli, an unflinching conservative, said he has a record of working with Democrats on common priorities such as property rights, taxes and mental health funding during his time in the state Senate and as state attorney general. He said McAuliffe’s strategy was to dodge questions about his record and unfairly assail Cuccinelli’s in the final days.
“I would never close the door of the governor’s office to the Democrats. Even when you don’t agree with people, you have to talk to them,” Cuccinelli said during a conference call with reporters.
During his call, McAuliffe said jobs, education and transportation would be his focus – “they are not partisan issues” – and pledged to incorporate Republican ideas into his plan, just as incumbent Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell used Democratic input to pass a bipartisan transportation plan.
“There is a broad mainstream coalition that can overcome the extremes,” said McAuliffe, who supported McDonnell’s plan.
Cuccinelli, who opposed the transportation plan, has worked in the final weeks of the campaign to energize his deeply conservative base, composed of reliable voters whose opposition to the federal health care law is a driving force. Cuccinelli, who unsuccessfully led the opposition to the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court as state attorney general, has their backing even as more mainstream Republicans balk at his rhetoric.
“We need someone in the governor’s office who will work with members of both parties to get things done,” said Judy Ford Wason, a Republican strategist who worked in President Ronald Reagan’s White House and now supports McAuliffe.
“Ken Cuccinelli is not willing to put aside his extreme tea party agenda to do what’s best for the state,” said the former Republican National Committee member.
Despite his calls for compromise, McAuliffe insisted he would not negotiate women’s health issues, such as abortion or contraception.
“I will be a brick wall,” McAuliffe said. “I trust women to make their own choices.”
McAuliffe’s criticism of Cuccinelli over women’s issues has allowed him to open a wide gap among female voters.
A Quinnipiac University poll this week had women backing McAuliffe by 50-37 percent. An earlier Washington Post poll showed Cuccinelli trailing among women, with 58 percent opposing him and 34 percent supporting him.
The Washington Post poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. The Quinnipiac University poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
It’s not clear how long the appeal for bipartisanship will last.
Cuccinelli has a packed schedule. He visited a campaign office in Gloucester on Friday and later stopped in Urbanna, where he attended the town’s oyster festival. He posed for pictures, ate a corndog with mustard and watched a parade of ambulances and fire trucks pass with sirens blaring.
“I’m out here campaigning,” he said, noting his opponent had no public events on Friday. “I wish he were paying more of a price for it.”
Cuccinelli scheduled a seven-stop day Saturday and planned another five rallies on Sunday as he flies around the state to meet with as many voters as he can in the campaign’s waning hours.
McAuliffe did not have public events scheduled Friday, but he had three get-out-the-vote rallies scheduled for Saturday. He also planned to campaign with President Barack Obama on Sunday and Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.
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