As Ken Cuccinelli tried to shore up his conservative base -- with red-state attorneys general touting that he "led the fight against President Barack Obama's health-care law -- the Republican gubernatorial nominee could not say whether he would have voted to re-open the government if he were in Congress.
"I don't know whether I would have voted for it," Cuccinelli said when asked if he would have voted for the continuing resolution that ended the government shutdown.
The federal government shut down for 16 days, as Republicans in the House demanded either a defunding or delay of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats refused to negotiate on the law. A day before the Treasury Department said the country would hit its borrowing limit, House GOP leadership relented and allowed a vote on a compromise Senate bill that reopened the government. It passed with two-thirds of the House, but only a minority of Republicans.
Cuccinelli, trailing in the polls, has struggled to wage a campaign that strikes a balance between appealing to conservatives -- necessary in a low-turnout election -- and attracting the large number of Northern Virginia moderates and independents needed to win in this state Obama carried twice.
Today's event in Sterling was all about the base. Flanked by four of his Republican counterparts from around the country -- Pam Bondi of Florida, Luther Strange of Alabama, and Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia -- Cuccinelli played up his role as the first prosecutor to file a lawsuit against the health-care law. The law was eventually upheld by the United States Supreme Court.
Cuccinelli blasted the rollout of the health law's insurance exchanges, which has been mired with problems, dubbing it a "national embarrassment" and said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "ought to be fired."
Introducing Cuccinelli, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens of Georgia praised Cuccinelli's lawsuit over the health-care law as the catalyst for more states to follow his lead, saying Cuccinelli "led the fight" against the law. Seeking to link himself with the other attorneys general on stage, and underscore his "DC outsider" status, Cuccinelli praised the four as "the last line of defense against this federal government and its overreach."
But for Cuccinelli, the shutdown has taken a toll on his bid for governor of this purple state with many federal workers, contractors, and military service members. An NBC/Marist poll, taken after the shutdown, showed Democrat Terry McAuliffe increasing his lead from 5 to 8 points from before the shutdown to after it. A majority blamed Republicans for the shutdown, and many said it impacted their vote and would be voting for McAuliffe.
At the event here, Cuccinelli acknowledged the negative effects the government shutdown had on Virginia.
"All I can do is be concerned and go forward," he said, while deflecting questions about how much the shutdown, which has marred Republicans' approval ratings, had affected his campaign.