(ARLINGTON, Va.) — Headlining a rally Tuesday evening, President Joe Biden was the latest national Democrat to campaign in Virginia for gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe, joining a long list of prominent figures in the party who’ve descended on the commonwealth to mobilize voters against Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.
“You all know the stakes,” Biden told a crowd of supporters at the Virginia Highlands Park in Arlington, just outside the nation’s capital. “You don’t have to wonder what kind of governor Terry will be because you know what a great governor he was. It wasn’t just because of what he promised, it’s what he delivered.”
This marked the president’s second time stumping for McAuliffe; he first campaigned with him in late July.
Always falling the year after a presidential election, Virginia’s off-year elections, in particular the gubernatorial race, are considered a bellwether for politics heading into the midterm elections. Virginia trended increasingly blue over the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, but this election will be the first measure of how lasting that rebuke of the GOP is in what used to be a presidential battleground. A loss for McAuliffe, or even a narrow win, will also serve as a warning shot for Democrats in Washington that an unpopular president and stalled agenda defined by intraparty differences could cost them their slim majorities in Congress next year.
Biden’s approval is not only underwater nationally, but also in Virginia, where a Monmouth poll out last week showed more than half of voters disapprove of the job he is doing as president.
Trump endorsed Youngkin after he secured the Republican nomination in May, but he has not done any events with the candidate. He called into a rally in support of the statewide GOP ticket where attendees pledged allegiance to a flag said to be carried at the rally preceding the Jan. 6 insurrection, but Youngkin was not there and denounced the pledge as “weird and wrong.” The Republican has had to toe the thin line between being too pro- or anti-Trump so as not to alienate voters on either end of the political spectrum, and he’s fired back at McAuliffe’s Trump attacks by reminding his opponent that Trump is not on the ballot, trying to keep the focus on Virginia-specific issues.
The state rejected the former president twice (and by a 10-point margin in 2020), Democrats flipped the state legislature in 2019 and Republicans haven’t won statewide office in over a decade — all indications Trump is politically toxic in Virginia. McAuliffe and other Democrats have tried to use Trump’s toxicity to drag down Youngkin, tying him to the former president at every opportunity.
But during Tuesday night’s rally, Biden borrowed McAuliffe’s playbook, closely tying Youngkin to the former president.
“How well do you know Terry’s opponent? Well, just remember this, I ran against Donald Trump. Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump,” Biden said, claiming Youngkin has embraced Trump’s “bad ideas and bad record.”
The president also comment on how Youngkin hasn’t done any campaign events with Trump, claiming the GOP nominee “won’t allow Donald Trump to campaign for him in this state.”
“What’s he trying to hide? Is there a problem with Trump being here? Is he embarrassed?” Biden rhetorically asked the crowd.
Despite the race tightening over the last few weeks, McAuliffe is confident he’ll once again break the so-called “Virginia curse” of candidates losing Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial race if they have the same party affiliation as the current occupant of the White House. He broke it in 2013 when Barack Obama was president.
Barred by Virginia law from seeking a consecutive term, McAuliffe is vying for a comeback eight years after first winning the governor’s mansion, and despite Democrats’ recent gains, he’s locked in a tight race with Youngkin, a former private equity executive running his first campaign for political office. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, the McAuliffe’s lead is under two points one week out from Election Day — down from a nearly eight-point peak over Youngkin he had in early August.
Biden touted McAuliffe first term in office, even saying he’s “taking a page” from the Democrat’s book by including an expansion of pre-K in his Build Back Better bill that Congress and the White House are still negotiating. Biden also plugged McAuliffe’s record on the economy and creating new jobs, saying, “If you’re looking for someone who’s going to keep your economy going and growing, the man behind me’s the guy to get it done.”
Calling in help from national politicians is in line with how McAuliffe and other Democrats have nationalized the stakes of this race.
“This election is about the next chapter of Virginia — and our country,” McAuliffe said at a rally in Richmond with Obama Saturday.
“What happens here, I promise you is about people in these state and the people of our country,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at a rally in Prince William County Thursday.
In addition to Obama and Harris, who will be back in the state Friday for a concert rally in Norfolk with Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams, McAuliffe has had first lady Jill Biden, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms campaign for him. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., are campaigning for him in Northern Virginia Wednesday night.
Youngkin has taken a different approach as the campaign ends, touting his 10-day, 50-stop “Win with Glenn” bus tour around the commonwealth and mocking his opponent for relying “on big name surrogates to draw paltry, apathetic crowds.”
“Nobody’s coming to campaign with me,” Youngkin told CBS last week. “I mean, this is a race about Virginians and about the Virginia challenges.”
Polls show Republicans are more enthusiastic about participating in this election than Democrats. How heavily Washington’s woes weigh on McAuliffe, and whether enough Virginia voters buy the Democrats’ attempts to paint Youngkin and Trump as one in the same, and in turn, vote against him in this race, won’t be known until the votes are counted.
Mark Rozell, dean of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told ABC News Tuesday that the number of national surrogates stumping for McAuliffe is indicative of Democrats’ concerns.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the McAuliffe campaign being worried that the Democratic base is asleep right now, that the Democratic brand right now is suffering because of the declining popularity of the president, what happened in Afghanistan, the perception that the party just can’t get it together in Washington to get things done,” said Rozell, who’s covered this race in the Washington Post’s opinion section.
McAuliffe himself has acknowledged the president’s falling support in Virginia.
“We got to get Democrats out to vote. We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know. The president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through,” he said during a virtual rally on Oct. 5 that was clipped by the Republican National Committee and posted on social media.
In a statement ahead of Biden’s quick trip across the river, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said McAuliffe knows the president “is failing Virginians.”
“With an unprecedented amount of Republican enthusiasm, Virginians are ready to reject Terry McAuliffe and Joe Biden this November and turn out for Glenn Youngkin and Republicans up and down the ballot,” she said.
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