More than 400 Republicans gathered for a fundraising luncheon at the Richmond Marriott today to hear Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pledge support for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s bid for governor.

With 50 days until Election Day, Cuccinelli trails Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the polls and in fundraising, and bringing Rubio to town was designed to generate excitement and cash for the Republican cause.

Rubio, a rising GOP star mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2016, said the country has reached a “moment of extraordinary importance,” and suggested no less than the “American Dream” is at stake.

Rubio said the November election is not just about electing a Republican over a Democrat, but ensuring that the commonwealth is run by a candidate like Cuccinelli who supports free enterprise and limited government.

Cuccinelli’s election, said Rubio, would begin this “new renaissance of reaching the American Dream.”

Kay Coles James, a Cabinet official under Gov. George Allen and personnel director for President George W. Bush, opened the luncheon, saying Virginians and America face “a time when freedom and liberty are under attack.”

“A time like this requires Ken Cuccinelli,” she said.

Outside, more than two dozen Democrats and Planned Parenthood supporters were dressed in pink T-shirts and held signs saying, “Keep Ken Out” — a reference to the attorney general’s positions on women’s rights issues such as birth control and abortion.

Cuccinelli spoke for fewer than 10 minutes before introducing Rubio, saying the eyes of the nation are fixed on the race to see how Republicans respond after being defeating by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Cuccinelli said the party can send a message that a conservative candidate can win a purple state like Virginia and said the country’s “first principles” are at stake in the race.

He zeroed in on the president’s health care law due to take effect in several weeks, and drew a contrast with Democratic rival McAuliffe, who has supported the health plan and a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands more Virginians.

He vowed to stop as much of the implementation of the health law as “I possibly can” if elected. He also made a pitch for his education plan, saying it promotes “parental control and choice.”

Cuccinelli closed his remarks by calling for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington.

New campaign fundraising figures are due today. As of June 30, Democrat Terry McAuliffe had $6 million in cash on hand to Cuccinelli’s $2.7 million.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for McAuliffe at her Washington home Sept. 30. McAuliffe was chairman of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Today’s appearance is Rubio’s third in the Richmond area in 18 months.

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch on September 16, 2013.