FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton rallied supporters of Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe Saturday, pointing to the race as a sign that divisive politics is giving way to "common sense and common ground."
In her first public political event since departing the Obama administration, Clinton noted the end of the 16-day partial government shutdown, which affected many Virginians. More than 800,000 government workers were furloughed while Democrats and Republicans in Congress engaged in a partisan brawl over funding the country's new health care program, funding the government and raising the debt ceiling before reaching an eleventh hour compromise.
Clinton said the nation was watching the Virginia race to see whether voters "lead the way of turning from divisive politics, getting back to commonsense and common ground."
"We cannot let those who do not believe in America's progress to hijack this great experiment," Clinton added, endorsing her longtime family friend at an event billed, "Women for Terry McAuliffe."
The former secretary of state has largely avoided politics this year, raising money at private fundraisers for McAuliffe and one scheduled Monday for the New York mayoral campaign of Bill de Blasio, a former campaign aide. McAuliffe was a top fundraiser for the campaigns of both former President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton and later served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats consider Clinton to be the party's leading contender to succeed President Barack Obama, her onetime rival, if she decides to run for president again in 2016.
While Saturday's event aimed to energize voters for McAuliffe, it evoked Clinton's lengthy bid in 2008 to become the first woman to win the White House. The crowd broke into chants of "Hillary" as McAuliffe introduced her, and Clinton confessed that she had "been out of politics for a few years now."
When Clinton told the audience that her time traveling the globe had allowed her to think about "what makes our country so great, what kind of leadership is required to keep it great," a man in the audience shouted, "Yours!"
Independent polls show McAuliffe has built a lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli with more than two weeks until the Nov. 5 election, helped by an advantage among women and voters in northern Virginia. Both blocs were crucial to Obama's victories in Virginia during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
Cuccinelli's campaign said Clinton's appearance brought back memories of McAuliffe's fundraising role during Bill Clinton's presidency, when some prominent donors stayed overnight at the White House in the Lincoln Bedroom.
"If there was any doubt that Terry McAuliffe would bring Washington, D.C., big-government politics to Richmond, today is your proof," said Cuccinelli spokesman Richard T. Cullen.
A longtime advocate for women and children, Clinton said the energetic McAuliffe would be a "24-7 governor" who would do the right thing for women and "stand up against attempts to restrict women's health choices and ban common forms of birth control."
She said the recent shutdown, which has hit many Virginia voters hard, was an example "of the wrong kind of leadership, when politicians choose scorched earth over common ground." Clinton said many workers had been furloughed, businesses had been hurt and children had been thrown out of early childhood education programs.
"That is not the kind of leadership we need in Virginia and America today," Clinton said.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.