Biden, despite flagging poll numbers, returning to Virginia campaign trail ahead of Election Day
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With former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe holding an razor thin edge over GOP nominee Glenn Younkin with less than weeks until Election Day in the state’s gubernatorial showdown, McAuliffe’s bringing out some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party to help him energize Democrats to vote.
McAuliffe said Tuesday during an education roundtable in Alexandria, Virginia that President Biden will return to the commonwealth, telling reporters “he’ll be coming back. You bet he will.”
The McAuliffe campaign didn’t provide any further details, nor did the White House.
“I don’t have any updates on travel. I would expect we would have more to convey soon about his plans to support the election of former governor McAuliffe,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during Tuesday’s briefing.
The president last teamed up with McAuliffe on the campaign trail in late July in the voter-rich and heavily Democratic Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
President Biden participates in a campaign event with candidate for Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, at Lubber Run Park in Arlington, Virginia, July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
That was before McAuliffe’s lead over Youngkin, a first-time candidate and former CEO of a large private equity firm, started shrinking amid the sinking of Biden’s approval ratings. The drop in the president’s numbers were fueled by criticism of his handling of the turbulent U.S. exit from Afghanistan, the surge in COVID-19 cases this summer mainly among unvaccinated people due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, and the latest surge of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. along the southern border with Mexico.
The president’s approval ratings in Virginia have also deteriorated. A recent Fox News poll indicated Virginians equally divided on the job Biden’s doing as president and on his favorability, in a state Biden won by 10 points in last November’s presidential election.
McAuliffe, in a recent video conference clip that Republicans spotlighted, acknowledged that “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.”
Adding to Biden’s polling woes is the inability to date by the White House and congressional Democrats – due to an intra-party battle between progressives and moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill – to agree on the party’s massive social spending, human infrastructure and climate change package, as well as a bipartisan infrastructure bill. That has forced McAuliffe to criticize his own party. The odds that the Democrats will come to agreement and pass both packages before Election Day in Virginia are diminishing.
The former governor has repeatedly emphasized – on the debate stage and in interviews – that it’s time for lawmakers in Washington “to stop their little chitty-chat up there, and it’s time for them to pass it.”
An average of the latest polls in the race indicates that McAuliffe – who’s running for his old job – holds a slight, single-digit edge over Youngkin in Virginia, where Republicans haven’t won a statewide contest in a dozen years. The Cook Report, a top nonpartisan political handicapper, three weeks ago shifted its ranking of the race from “lean Democratic” to “toss up.”
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, participate in their debate at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold gubernatorial elections in the year after the presidency’s decided, guaranteeing they always grab outsized attention.
There’s a long-running trend of voters in the commonwealth defeating the gubernatorial nominee of the party that controls the White House. McAuliffe broke with that tradition in 2013 with his election as governor in the year after Obama was reelected. McAuliffe was unable to run for reelection in 2017 because Virginia governors are barred from serving two straight terms.
The close contest in Virginia – a one-time key battleground but still competitive state which is seen as a key bellwether ahead of the 2022 midterm elections – has national Democrats on edge as they defend their razor-thin majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in next year’s contests.
The latest surveys in the state also indicate that Republican voters are more motivated than their Democratic counterparts. And McAuliffe’s putting on a full court press to get Democrats to cast ballots in the current early voting period, or to go to the polls on Election Day.
Besides Biden, McAuliffe’s team also announced on Tuesday that former President Obama will campaign with the former governor in the state capital city of Richmond a week from Saturday, on Oct. 23. Even after nearly five years removed from the White House, the former two-term president remains very popular and influential with voters in his own party.
“Folks, I’m excited to announce that President Obama will be joining me,” McAuliffe wrote on Twitter.
McAuliffe will also campaign with First Lady Jill Biden on Friday in Richmond. And he’ll team up on the campaign trail this upcoming weekend with voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House Democratic leader who in 2018 made history as the first Black female gubernatorial nominee of a major political party.
Veteran Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin, who ran communications for McAuliffe’s successful 2013 gubernatorial campaign, said “there’s no nervousness at all” about having Biden return to the Virginia campaign trail. Schwerin said that Biden “absolutely” can still energize the base, even with his deteriorating poll numbers.
“We’re at a point in the election where this is about getting your people out to vote,” he emphasized.
But Youngkin campaign communications adviser Devin O’Malley said “it’s telling that the announcement about Biden was not included with their list of other surrogates coming in to stump for Terry. All of these announcements are an indication that the McAuliffe campaign is scared. There is a huge enthusiasm gap that McAuliffe’s trying to close because he doesn’t excite his base.”
By contrast, there’s no indication that former President Trump, who’s endorsed Youngkin, will come to Virginia to campaign with the GOP nominee.
A Virginia GOP official told Fox News that there are no plans in the works right now for the former president campaign in Virginia, but that “the two teams are in touch to determine how the former president can be most helpful.”
McAuliffe’s been repeatedly linking Youngkin to Trump, who remains deeply unpopular with many Virginia voters.
McAuliffe constantly calls Youngkin a “Trump wannabe,” and doesn’t miss an opportunity at campaign events, interviews and during the two debates between the nominees to tie Youngkin to Trump.
On Monday, the McAuliffe campaign went up with a new digital ad accusing Youngkin of “putting Trump’s agenda first.”
“All the Democrats are on the field. On the flip side, Trump’s in hiding,” Schwerin charged. “He’s who Youngkin needs to turn out his voters and for whatever reason they’re afraid to bring him to Virginia. In a close race where both sides need to be throwing everything at this, the Democrats are and Trump’s MIA.”
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