Tea Party Star

In Which Ken Cuccinelli Gets Outshone by His Guest, Marco Rubio

At a pre-Election Day rally Monday, the GOP’s failing Virginia gubernatorial nominee gets upstaged by one of the party’s young Tea Party stars.

The final leg of Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign for the Virginia governorship has been a nonstop set of rallies, each with a different guest from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. It’s a Hail Mary, of sorts. Thanks to his flat-footed moves at the beginning of the year—from commandeering the nomination process to opposing Bob McDonnell and his major transportation plan—Cuccinelli has alienated the business-focused donors of the Virginia GOP. Unlike Terry McAuliffe, who can call unlimited favors from countless donors, Cuccinelli is locked out from cash and has been outspent by margin of more than 2-to–1.

And so, to compensate, Cuccinelli is crossing the state with Tea Partiers in tow, hoping to energize his voters and bring them to the polls. It’s not a bad bet; if turnout matches the low totals of previous gubernatorial elections, then a strong push by Cuccinelli’s supporters might give him a fighting chance.

So on Monday, Cuccinelli, his running mates—lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson and attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain—and a few hundred supporters packed into a roadside hotel in Warrenton, and pledged to beat McAuliffe and deliver a crushing blow to President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Cuccinelli was joined by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, which may have been a mistake, given the huge enthusiasm for the young Tea Party wonder.

For as much as the crowd was happy to see Jackson—who gave a short, rousing speech—and excited to see Cuccinelli, whose voice was on the way out, they were ecstatic for Rubio, despite his boiler-plate, by-the-books speech. “This is the first election in America since the full impact of Obamacare has been felt,” said Rubio, using Cuccinelli’s message that the race is a referendum on the Affordable Care Act. “This is the first chance people in this country have to make a statement at the ballot box about how this law is going.”

“This race,” he continued, “is a strong contrast between someone who doesn’t think it goes far enough, and someone who was the very first to oppose it.” Every time Rubio hit such a note, the audience cheered with “amen” or “that’s right.” Near the end of his remarks, one woman yelled in support of Rubio 2016: “Run for president!”

After candidates left, I asked a few people about Rubio’s performance and what they thought of the young senator. “I thought he was spot on,” said Grant Curcurcan, an older man from the area. “He appeals to this crowd—it’s a pretty county, traditionally, and has been since Jefferson and Monroe were going up and down to Monticello.”

I don’t think we can describe the earlier presidents as “red” in the Republican sense, but I get what he’s trying to say: that Rubio appeals to traditional Republicans, even with his support for immigration reform. A handful audience members told me they thought Rubio had a position worth listening to, compared to Obama’s “amnesty” and other Republicans who want to “do nothing.”

The men and women who went to see Cuccinelli were almost certain to go out to vote Tuesday. Judging from their enthusiasm for the Florida senator, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few them were wishing they could cast a ballot for Rubio, as well.