When President Obama hit the campaign trail Sunday for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, he was buoyant, grinning, and grateful to be back in friendly territory on the stump.
"Over the last few weeks, I've heard about all of these people coming out and campaigning for Terry, and I was tired of having other people have all the fun," Obama said. "Bill Clinton, Kerry Washington, all those folks. I want to get in on the action."
The president was met with a resoundingly enthusiastic reception from the 1,600 people who filled the gymnasium at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington — a much friendlier treatment than he's gotten lately from the public.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week showed Obama's approval to be just 42 percent, the lowest rating of his presidency, and the president has grappled publicly with a bungled rollout of his signature health care law.
That law was one rallying cry for protestors gathered outside of the McAuliffe rally Sunday, some of whom held signs critical of the Obamacare rollout. One hand-drawn poster read, "404: Healthcare not found," referring to the internet error message.
Obama did not invoke the healthcare law in his speech, focusing instead on more politically favorable motifs, including hitting Republicans -- and, specifically, McAuliffe's Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli -- for fostering the type of gridlock that led to last month's 16-day government shutdown.
While Congress can "get away with" gridlock, Obama said, a governor can not.
"The governor, that's a practical job," Obama said, adding, "They can not afford to be ideologues."
The president's cameo on behalf of McAuliffe was the latest in a string of comparably high-profile campaign-trail appearances on both sides of the Virginia governor's race.
The actress Kerry Washington spoke earlier in the program Sunday, and Hillary and Bill Clinton made multiple appearances with McAuliffe. Vice President Biden will stump for McAuliffe on Monday.
Meanwhile, Cuccinelli has drawn in a who's who of potential Republican candidates for president, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Saturday, and Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz recently.
Democrats and McAuliffe have taken great pains to tie Cruz in particular to Cuccinelli following Cruz's divisive role in shutting down the government as part of his ultimately futile effort to defund Obamacare.
"Can you even imagine if Ted Cruz, Ken Cuccinelli and the Tea Party ran Virginia government?" McAuliffe told the crowd Sunday, to loud cheers.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., also invoked Cruz, attacking Cuccinelli for suggesting "we need more Ted Cruzes in the Senate."
"We need more Ted Cruzes like we need a hole in the head," Moran said.
In the final days of Virginia's gubernatorial campaign, which will be decided by voters Tuesday, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli in most polls, by anywhere from a few points to double-digits. The focus for McAuliffe now turns to a robust get-out-the-vote effort, particularly in the voter-rich Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia.
"The question in this election is simple: Will the mainstream, bipartisan majority in Virginia be drowned out by the Tea Party?" McAuliffe said. "If mainstream Virginians from both parties don’t turn out to vote, you’re letting the Tea Party decide Virginia’s future."