President Barack Obama told an estimated 1,600 people Sunday inside the Washington-Lee High School gymnasium that a vote for Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday is a vote for progress.
"This is all about moving forward," Obama said. "It's not about going backwards. It's about building, not destroying. And, Virginia, I'm asking you to choose progress."
Obama joined McAuliffe, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and several other officials in Arlington just two days before McAuliffe faces Republican Ken Cuccinelli on Election Day. The president carried Democrat-friendly Arlington with 72 percent of the vote in 2008 and 69 percent in 2012.
In an area home to so many federal employees and other workers whose jobs have ties to the federal government, Obama, McAuliffe, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and others sought to paint Cuccinelli and his supporters as part of a fringe faction of the Republican Party that, they claimed, forced the government to shut down simply to make a point.
“You’ve seen an extreme faction of the Republican Party that has shown again and again and again that they’re willing to hijack their party, the country, and the economy… if they don’t get 100 percent of what they want,” Obama said. “This isn’t just speculation. You just saw it last month. Here in Virginia, you saw the pain of the first government shutdown in 17 years.”
"This isn't a game," he said. "There are very real consequences when you operate ideologically, the way some of these folks do."
McAuliffe repeatedly linked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who not only played a role in the federal shutdown but was in Iowa recently calling it a success — to Cuccinelli and the GOP ticket.
"Here is the bottom line: While he may cynically want everyone to forget the shutdown, Virginia’s memory is better than that. We’re not going to forget that Ken Cuccinelli sided with the Tea Party and against Virginia families," McAuliffe said.
"We’re not going to forget the $24 billion it cost our economy. We’re not going to forget the parents who had to tell their kids they couldn’t work because of Washington dysfunction. And we’re not going to forget the contractors, small businesses and families who are still trying to recover to this day. Can you even imagine if Ted Cruz, Ken Cuccinelli and the Tea Party ran Virginia government?"
Mo Elleithee, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, later told Patch that the Virginia election was shaping up to be a referendum on the "politics of obstruction."
The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows McAuliffe with a five-point lead over Cuccinelli heading into the final days. But if complacency or confidence keeps Democrats from the polls on Tuesday, that lead won't matter.
"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," Obama said.
McAuliffe himself looked more energized than he has in some other appearances in the past month. He seemed to be slightly caught off guard by the thunderous applause to his closing remarks, where he pledged to fight for equality for gays and lesbians and to protect women's access to healthcare.
Warner touched on some of the attack ads the Cuccinelli campaign has run against McAuliffe: "They've accused him of being a business guy who knows how to get a deal done" he said. "They accused me of the same thing. And, frankly, having somebody in Richmond who knows how to read a balance sheet would be a good thing."
State Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, told Patch that he thought Sunday's rally had the energy needed to drive voters to the polls. A long list of Democratic dignitaries — including a couple of former Republicans — spoke in the hour before McAuliffe and the president arrived, and each one asked the crowd to dedicate time to working the polls, knocking on doors and making phone calls on the Democrats' behalf.
"People are ready to vote. They're excited," said Ebbin, who will be working the polls in Mount Vernon on Tuesday. "We're seeing the kind of enthusiasm we need in the final days before an election."
"We're fired up and ready to go," Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada told Patch, invoking a key slogan from Obama's 2008 presidential run. "We're looking at a time when the president has come out looking strong against the tea party, who tried to shut down the government, but it backfired on them."
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have campaigned for McAuliffe, and Vice President Joe Biden is expected to do so in Annandale on Monday.
Cuccinelli will hold a series of events with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday and spend election eve at a convention center in Richmond with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Paul's son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, are among those who have stumped for Cuccinelli.
Ahead of the president's appearance, former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis said the governor's race "has shaped up to be a big opportunity for folks to send Washington a message on Obamacare," according to the Daily Press in Newport News.
Davis also said Obama's appearance could "rev up" Republicans who have been sitting on the sidelines, according to the Washington Post.
Elleithee told Patch he didn't think the McAuliffe campaign would feel any sort of backlash from Obama's appearance.
"Bringing the president in... I'd take that any day of the week," he said.