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Hillary Clinton endorses Terry McAuliffe for Virginia governor

At her first explicitly political appearance since stepping down as secretary of state in February, Hillary Clinton offered a rousing endorsement of longtime family friend and Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe Saturday, telling an audience in Falls Church, Va., that McAuliffe will be a "24/7" governor who eschews partisan warfare in favor of problem-solving.

In a curious twist - presumably a nod to Clinton's star power - it was McAuliffe who introduced Clinton, not the other way around. Customarily, the endorser introduces the candidate.

Clinton took the stage to raucous applause and lavished praise on McAuliffe, who was the co-chair of her 2008 presidential bid and a former key fundraiser for her husband, former President Clinton, during his time in public office.

McAuliffe "has maybe the biggest heart and the most open mind of anyone you'll ever meet," the former first lady and senator said. "Terry has always been there for me, and I'm pleased to be here for him."

In remarks that were aimed squarely at the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., only miles from where she spoke, Clinton said she hopes "the whole country is watching this election - watching to see whether the voters of Virginia lead the way of turning from divisive politics, getting back to common sense and common ground."

Voters, she added, are "watching to see if it's possible to move toward a new economy that works for everyone and also provides good jobs with good benefits for everyone and where equal work really does mean equal pay for everyone."

"There are times when none of us can sit on the sidelines," she said, "and right now, here in Virginia, is one of those times."

As evidence of McAuliffe's pragmatic approach, Clinton noted his support for Republican incumbent Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation plan. "It was the right thing to do," she said, despite the fact that it was not proposed by a Democrat.

And McAuliffe's conciliatory style, Clinton said, should distinguish him from the viper's nest next door in Washington.

"Recently in Washington, unfortunately, we have seen examples of the wrong kind of leadership - when politicians choose scorched earth over common ground, when they operate in what I call the evidence-free zone, with ideology trumping everything else," she said.

At the event, which was spearheaded by the group Women for Terry McAuliffe and aimed to strengthen the Democrat's hold on the female vote, Clinton also dwelt at length on women's equality, a cause that has defined much of her time in the public eye. Although she did not mention McAuliffe's opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, by name, she warned that McAuliffe's loss could lead to a rolling back of women's freedom in the commonwealth.

"The whole country is watching to see if the rights of women and girls will be respected, especially over our own bodies and health care," Clinton said. She noted that some have proposed restricting women's health-care choices and banning common forms of birth control, but she added, "You will not have to worry about that with Terry McAuliffe in the governor's office."

McAuliffe has led Cuccinelli by a healthy margin in recent polls, his lead amplified by the government shutdown that diminished on the national image of the Republican Party and seemed to drag down Cuccinelli's candidacy with it. The general election will be held Nov. 5.

Clinton is also expected to headline a fundraiser for McAuliffe in Los Angeles sometime over the next few weeks.

Although Saturday's event was ostensibly organized to support McAuliffe's candidacy, it was clear based on the national media coverage of the event that Hillary Clinton was the star of the show, and the enthusiasm of the audience seemed to confirm as much.

At the outset of her remarks, Clinton said, "I've been out of politics for a few years now, and I've had a chance to think a lot about what makes our country so great, what kind of leadership is required to keep it great."

Before she could finish her thought, an audience member's voice cut through the applause: "Yours!"

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