Hardball with Chris Matthews, 8/14/13, 5:35 PM ET

GOP uses VA governor’s race to attack Hillary Clinton

You might have thought the Virginia governor's race was all about who will govern Virginia. But you would be wrong. The GOP says it's using the race to test...

GOP uses Va. gubernatorial race to attack Hillary Clinton

Updated

You may have thought that the governor’s race in Virginia was about Democrat Terry McAuliffe versus Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

Turns out, it’s actually about Hillary Clinton.

That’s because Republicans are using the Virginia race to test drive attacks against the former secretary of state ahead of her potential run for president in 2016.

America Rising, a Super PAC made up of several embittered former aides to Mitt Romney, is the same group that created the website www.stophillary2016.org.

“Terry McAuliffe shares some of his most unappealing attributestrading on influence, serial exaggeration, DC insiderismwith Hillary Clinton,” said executive director of America Rising, Tim Miller. “He has a long record of shady insider dealing involving the Clintons, their family, and hangers-on including the current investigation into the car company he and Clinton’s brother are executives in. To the extent that Terry is damaged with voters based on these issues in Virginia this fall, you can see how it could hurt Hillary in 2016.”

Democrats see attacks on Clinton via McAuliffe from outside groups like America Rising and the National Committee, as desperate in light of dissatisfaction with their own nominee in Virginia, Cuccinnelli.

“Ken Cuccinelli wants to make abortion and birth control illegal, he’s wrapped up in the same ethics scandal as Gov. McDonnell, and his office is under investigation by the Inspector General,” said McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin. “Of course his backers are left making desperate attacks and grasping at straws.”

A recent ABC/Washington Post Poll revealed that Clinton’s popularity rating are sky high; 61% have a favorable view of the former secretary of state.

“I think Terry is looking forward to his event with Hillary at the end of this month,” said Neera Tanden, who has known Clinton for 20 years and worked for in the White House, the Senate, and on her presidential campaign.

And in Virginia alone, Clinton trounces Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and the state’s own Gov. Bob McDonnell by double digits in hypothetical match ups according to PPP polling. The same left-leaning poll showed her beating Jeb Bush by five points. The only potential Republican who comes with in a margin of error is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who if he managed to win a GOP primary, Clinton would defeat by one point in Virginia as of today.

“If they want to attack Terry by attacking the most post popular politician in the country then I’m fine with that,” said one national Democrat close to McAuliffe. “They’re just attacking Hillary to raise money and show their donors that they are doing something because they know Hillary is a buzzword.”

But an RNC spokeswoman continued on the attack and doubled down on GOP efforts to paint McAuliffe and Clinton with the same brush.

“You’re going to see us using Hillary Clinton and her ties - it’s her past and her ties are haunting her,” Kirsten Kukowski told The Hill Newspaper.

“You’re going to see that be a common theme in the way we’re talking about Hillary. The McAuliffe race isn’t good for Hillary - these issues are playing out in real time in an important seat where people in D.C. are paying attention,” she said.

Accusing the Clinton’s of corruption is nothing new when it comes to the Republican playbook and many of these issues that the RNC plans to attack her for have already been litigated in the public forum for over 20 years.

“Right wingers have been milking Republican donors at the behest of their dislike of Hillary Clinton for 20 years and they’ve failed ti bring her down every time,” said Tanden. “These attacks on her that have been going on for decades have failed before and they’ll fail again.”

Virginia voters will have to decide whether the Clinton baggage that has yet to weigh her down in election to the Senate, as a presidential candidate who nearly missed the nomination or as secretary of state.

GOP uses Va. gubernatorial race to attack Hillary Clinton

Updated