Fanaticism is fueling conservative voters who could threaten Democrat Terry McAuliffe's political chances, former President Bill Clinton warned Sunday as he joined his longtime buddy's campaign for Virginia governor.
With little more than a week before Nov. 5's Election Day, McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli each have sought to energize their strongest supporters, by inspiration or fear. McAuliffe has opened a lead in polling and is heavily outspending Cuccinelli on television ads, but turnout is expected to be low and the result could be decided by a few thousand votes.
"Political extremism does have one redeeming virtue in terms of pure politics,'' Clinton said here at a packed high school auditorium.
"If you can get somebody into a fanatic frame of mind,'' Clinton said, then they will vote because they are convinced the deck is stacked against them.
It was a shift in roles. For decades, it has been McAuliffe championing the personal and political futures of Bill Clinton and, later, his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now, the former president is here to pitch in during the campaign against Republican Ken Cuccinelli during its final week.
"Terry's gotten so good on the stump, I don't think he needs me anymore,'' Clinton said to laughter at the pair's first stop in Dale City.
Clinton planned other stops throughout the state with his longtime pal and fundraiser during the coming day. Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is considered a strong contender for 2016's presidential nomination, used her first political event after stepping down as secretary of state to endorse McAuliffe earlier this month.
Bill Clinton predicted that Cuccinelli's supporters, who are deeply conservative and align to the tea party, would vote and he urged Democrats to be just as motivated.
"Just remember, the people who aren't here today, who go to the other fella's rally, they will be there on Election Day,'' he said.
That "other fella,'' as Clinton called Cuccinelli, sought to turn one of the Democratic Party's stars into another way to build enthusiasm among his conservative supporters. Even before the pair arrived at a veterans' hall near Washington, Cuccinelli's campaign had sent reporters a memo recounting the years of Clinton-McAuliffe collaboration for Democrats.
Yet what Republicans called "the McAuliffe-Clinton baggage'' - questions over the Clintons' finances, Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern and his subsequent impeachment - seems to have faded for many voters.
And between Clinton's first and second stops for McAuliffe, Cuccinelli organized a conference call with reporters to again raise separate questions about McAuliffe's investment with a man who has pleaded guilty to stealing the identities of the terminally ill.
Cuccinelli has acknowledged the investments were not against the law but also said McAuliffe needs to explain the details to voters. He also wants to know why the investment did not appear on McAuliffe's financial disclosure forms when he ran for governor in 2009.
"I'm tripping over myself to be as open as humanly possible with the voters of Virginia, and Terry McAuliffe is taking every step possible to hide, to bury and obfuscate and lie, let's face it,'' Cuccinelli said. "He knows how dirty it is.''
McAuliffe says he was a "passive investor'' and was never aware of the details. Much of what Cuccinelli raised had been out there for weeks, campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said.
Clinton and McAuliffe's four-day swing was sending them to stops in Democratic-leaning parts of the state.
"In the parlance of my native state and my culture, I am fully aware that I am just preaching to the saved,'' as Clinton put it.
But they're not always reliable parishioners.
In 2008, 75 percent of the state's registered voters turned out during the heat of a presidential campaign, and 2012's campaign drew 72 percent. Obama won both campaigns.
But in 2009, that number was 40 percent and Republican Bob McDonnell won.
To help inspire turnout, Clinton and McAuliffe spent almost an hour at a Red Lobster restaurant near Richmond to meet with a largely black crowd who ate after attending church services. The pair signed autographs, posed for cellphone photos, snacked on biscuits - and came away with voters pledging their support.
Darlene Gilchrist-Dailey of Richmond said the Clinton stop cemented her vote for McAuliffe.
"I was planning on voting for him anyway but having President Clinton and his wife endorse him has even made it a stronger commitment for me to get out there and vote for him,'' she said.
Bill Clinton's approval ratings have improved since he left the White House in 2001 and voters have not lost interest in Hillary Rodham Clinton since she stepped down as President Barack Obama's top diplomat earlier this year.
Every step Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken since leaving the State Department has been examined for its 2016 implications. And Bill Clinton's return to full-time campaigning - even if for only a few days - was sure to add to speculation about whether a Clinton could call the White House home again in 2017.
Democrats have been relentless in painting Cuccinelli - who is known best outside the state as the first to challenge President Barack Obama's health care law - as a political ideologue and someone who is unwilling to compromise.
Clinton happily added his voice to that message.
"If we become ideological, then we're blind to evidence,'' said Clinton, who as president sometimes bucked his party and worked with Republicans. "We can only hear people who already agree with us. We think we know everything right now, and we have nothing to learn from anybody.''