RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The brand new Virginia Democratic statewide ticket has decided to wage this fall's races for the state's top three offices against the tea party.
Nominees Ralph Northam for lieutenant governor and Mark Herring for attorney general joined gubernatorial ticket-topper Terry McAuliffe for a "unity" rally Wednesday in Richmond hours after their Tuesday primary victories.
They assailed a Republican ticket headed by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as one beholden to tea party conservatives who viewed legislative compromise on transportation funding reforms this year as betrayal and punished it by defeating two senior Republican lawmakers.
In their first appearance together, McAuliffe, Northam and Herring stuck to the message of making the election a referendum on the tea party and its strain of uncompromising conservatism.
"I think we all agree that there is an enormous difference between the two tickets in this race. This mainstream ticket focuses on the issues that matter to Virginians: reducing transportation gridlock, improving education and fostering economic development," McAuliffe told a breakfast rally of Democrats in a restored 109-year-old former Vaudeville venue and movie theater in a historically black Richmond neighborhood.
"The tea party ticket focuses on issues that divide Virginians: attacking Planned Parenthood, attacking and demonizing gay Virginians and promoting disproven fringe claims about President Obama's place of birth," he said.
Following up on an ad in which he takes credit for helping galvanize Democratic backing for Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's landmark transportation bill, McAuliffe praised his party for fostering bipartisanship in a Republican-ruled Virginia legislature.
"The tea party ticket views bipartisanship as betrayal and actually attacked Governor McDonnell" over the transportation bill. It now serves as the governor's defining policy legacy but divided Republicans between supporters and conservatives who assailed it as the largest tax increase in state history.
Northam looked tired after Tuesday's late-night victory over former Obama White House technology chief Aneesh Chopra, who raised more than twice the campaign cash. He warned that strident conservative ideology not only has social consequences but economic ones, as well.
"This state, in order to have business, in order to welcome people, we need to be inclusive. That starts with stopping the attack on women, the assault on the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community," said Northam, a Norfolk pediatric neurologist and state senator who led the Democrats' opposition to a Republican bill in 2012 that would have mandated a vaginally intrusive ultrasound examination for all women who seek abortions.
Herring continued the attack, on the GOP ticket of Cuccinelli, lieutenant governor nominee E.W. Jackson and Herring's November opponent, state Sen. Mark Obenshain. All three have strong records of opposing abortion rights.
"When we tell the truth about the record of these extreme Republicans ... the voters are going to be with us," said Herring, a state senator from Loudoun. "Their vision is way outside the mainstream. And that's the truth."
Democrats are betting the ranch on what has been their party's central strategy since Cuccinelli's nomination became assured last year. Republicans made clear that they plan to fight fire with fire, calling the McAuliffe-Northam-Herring ticket one of "history's most liberal."
"Two-thirds of the Republican ticket (Cuccinelli and Obenshain) were serving Virginia when the tea party was still referenced primarily in textbooks," state Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr., R-Louisa, said, dismissing the Democrats' post-primary rhetoric as "jingoism and claptrap."
Garrett and two fellow GOP legislators said in a conference call that if McAuliffe cares to challenge the Republicans' ideas, he should do so in debates where he and Cuccinelli question each other directly.
Cuccinelli insists on holding such debates. Republicans cited comments from Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax on a conservative radio talk show that McAuliffe is making "a big mistake" to avoid such debates.