Fairfax, Virginia (CNN) - Virginia GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli said Friday that the Affordable Care Act is “the law of the land” and called on members of Congress to pass a short-term spending bill that would bring the ongoing government shutdown to an end.
“This is no way to run a government, especially a super power,” Cuccinelli told reporters after convening a roundtable discussion with area physicians to discuss flaws in the health care law.
Cuccinelli, who trails Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe in the polls, avoided blaming his fellow Republicans in the House for the stalemate in Washington, a shutdown that has affected tens of thousands of Virginia workers and military families.
He pointed instead to President Barack Obama and “ridiculous” Senate Democrats for refusing to negotiate over a spending resolution that would de-fund “Obamacare,” as well as other smaller bills that would open parts of the federal government.
But unlike GOP hardliners in the House, Cuccinelli said Republicans and Democrats should agree to pass a stopgap bill that re-opens the government in the short term “just to keep things running,” as long as it does not increase federal spending levels.
Asked if the shutdown is hurting his campaign, the Republican said it’s “dominating people’s attention” because Virginia’s economic vitality is so closely tied to federal government.
“Yes, it is affecting the campaign,” he said.
Cuccinnelli was also asked if he agreed with the Republican running to succeed him as state Attorney General, Mark Obenshain, who said Thursday that Obamacare is now the law, even if he disagrees with elements of the legislation.
“Mark is correct, it’s the law of the land,” said Cuccinelli, who was the first attorney general in the nation to sue the federal government over the law, which was ultimately upheld in the Supreme Court last year. “It doesn’t mean that it’s all done and we are set and over with. They don’t even know how they are going to implement it. We are learning a lot as we go here.”
Cuccinelli was in Fairfax to emcee the latest in his series of “Obamacare roundtable,” in which he discusses the perils of the law with sympathetic Virginia voters. He was joined Friday by nearly a dozen local physicians to discuss the Affordable Care Act.
But the event showcased a nagging problem for the Republican candidate: escaping his reputation as a crusading social conservative under a furious onslaught of attacks from McAuliffe and his Democratic allies who say Cuccinelli would limit women's access to contraception.
Cuccinelli, who has sought to limit access to abortion in the commonwealth and once sponsored a “personhood” bill as a state senator, is badly trailing McAuliffe among women.
Three of the doctors invited to join him on the Obamacare panel veered from the topic at hand and vented to Cuccinelli, for nearly 10 minutes in full view of television camera crews, about friends and work colleagues who say they refuse to vote Republican because of the party’s perceived fixation with cultural matters like same-sex marriage.
“There are concerns you are going to lose the race because of these social issues,” said Dr. Stephen Weinroth, an infectious disease specialist from Fairfax and a self-described Republican, who urged Cuccinelli to fight back harder against Democratic attacks.
Another local supporter on the panel, Fran Fisher, said “the average Joe on the street can’t get past the disagreement with social issues to look at who would be better with the economy. That’s the problem.”
Dr. Ali Assefi, a Fairfax nephrologist, said “the social issues are scaring people.”
“I talked to both of my neighbors and both of them identified you with transvaginal ultrasounds,” he said, referring to a 2012 effort in the Virginia legislature that would have required women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure prior to having an abortion. “That has become the single issue that is bothering them. Not the issue of being fiscally responsible or smaller government or creating jobs or making the economy better.”
Cuccinelli backed elements of that abortion bill but said he opposed the transvaginal ultrasound language that was ultimately watered down.
He did not shy away from the discussion, however, gamely engaging the doctors about negative ads and the spending disparity in the campaign.
“It’s the only thing my opponent is focusing on,” Cuccinelli said of social issues. “He has no positive agenda. They are just pounding the daylights out of me with these subjects.”