Republicans are using Virginia's gubernatorial race as a dry run to test attacks on former secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE for cronyism if she runs for the White House in 2016.  

The GOP feels it has the perfect stand-in for Clinton this year in Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton confidante running to become governor of Virginia.  

Republicans are focused on a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into GreenTech Automotive, an electric car company founded by McAuliffe.  

The probe concerns the company’s use of visas provided to foreign investors who invest more than $500,000 into U.S. companies.  

Republicans are hammering McAuliffe over the company, questioning whether he used his political connections to push visas through the immigration process.  

They have also raised questions about Tony Rodham, Clinton’s brother, who headed an investment firm that helped GreenTech gain foreign investors. His involvement helps Republicans underline the connection between McAuliffe and Clinton.  

Tim Miller of the GOP opposition research group America Rising said Republicans’ aim is to defeat McAuliffe — and hurt Clinton in the process.  

“You might call it message testing,” Miller said. “There are learnings we can gleam from watching the next three months and see how much damage Terry will find from these activities. And we'll absolutely translate that over to Hillary.”  

American Rising released a Web video on Monday attacking McAuliffe’s claims that GreenTech would create jobs and has sent around a number of articles detailing Clinton’s ties to McAuliffe in recent days.  

“The Washington wheeling and dealing and favoritism shown to supporters and donors, the crony capitalism, to the extent that that is effective against Terry, you will see the same arguments be used against Hillary,” Miller said.

McAullife’s campaign said the attacks are an attempt by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R) campaign to distract from an investigation by the Virginia inspector general into whether his office improperly offered legal advice to a private energy company. Other Democrats echoed that message.

“They're trying to distract as much as possible from their very flawed candidate," one national Democratic official said. "I have no doubt between now. And 2016 they're going to try to use every opportunity to try to hit national Democrats, and what you're seeing on the state level is the same as on the national level: distracting from the issues that matter to middle-class voters.” 

“Who knows who's doing what and why,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. “But then again, you wouldn't be asking if you didn't have a pretty good idea.” 

The Republican National Committee has also put out a video featuring clips of news reports on the SEC investigation, followed by audio of Clinton saying she’s been in the political arena a long time and has “a lot of baggage.” The video is part of a weeklong series slamming Clinton and the TV networks CNN and NBC for their plans to air documentaries on her life.  

RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the video plays into a “culture of corruption narrative” the party will continue to use against Clinton heading forward.  

“You're going to see us using Hillary Clinton and her ties — it's her past and her ties are haunting her. … You're going to see that be a common theme in the way we're talking about Hillary,” she said. “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.”  

Other Republicans privately admit a goal is to see what sticks to Clinton and remind voters of long-forgotten concerns about her and her husband’s “secretive” business practices. 

“They're testing messages and seeing how they resonate, seeking a better understanding of how they can approach a race against Hillary,” said one national GOP strategist. “The people working on the race are focused on Terry, but from a national perspective with people in the party and third-party groups there's definitely an interest in how these messages are impacting the race and what that means a few years down the road.”

The attacks come as Clinton begins to reengage with the political world after five years above the fray. She gave a high-profile speech to the American Bar Association earlier this week and has scheduled a Sept. 30 fundraiser for McAuliffe at her Washington, D.C., home. This will be the first political fundraiser she’s held since she left the State Department.