President Biden will campaign Tuesday in Virginia — a state he ran away with just a year ago — for flagging Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in a governor’s race that will test his declining popularity.
In a sign of just how closely the White House is watching this race, Vice President Kamala Harris is set to make another stop there later this week in a bid to boost Democratic voter turnout ahead of next Tuesday’s election.
McAuliffe, a former governor, ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee and longtime Clinton family lieutenant, is tied with or barely leading Republican Glenn Youngkin in polls.
No Republican has won statewide office in Virginia since 2009, and Biden carried it by a comfortable 10 percentage points in 2020. Yet polls have shown McAuliffe tied with Youngkin with the election a week away — and the president’s own popularity on the decline.
Biden on Monday visited New Jersey to support Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who also faces a tough contest next week.
The pair of gubernatorial elections could drain Biden’s already sinking political momentum in DC as he seeks to forge Democratic consensus on a massive social spending bill that leftist House members say must pass before a vote on a $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill.
In 2009, Republican candidates won the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races in a significant blow to President Barack Obama during his first year in office following his 2008 landslide victory. The wins gave Republicans momentum going into the 2010 midterms.
Biden’s Tuesday night remarks will happen around 8 p.m. in a park near the Pentagon.
A loss by McAuliffe on Nov. 2 — or even a narrow victory — would be an ominous sign for Democrats already facing tough midterm elections next year, when their narrow control of the House and Senate will be on the line. The party that wins the White House historically losses congressional seats in the next election, and Virginia, this cycle’s top off-year race, is seen as a key test of whether Democrats can head into 2022 with momentum.
“We’ve been friends for decades. Terry and Joe Biden go back a long, long way,” McAuliffe’s wife Dorothy said in an interview during a Monday night campaign stop in the college town of Blacksburg, Virginia. “It means a lot personally that he wants to come back again and be helpful.”
How much Biden will help McAuliffe is an open question. Biden won New Jersey last year by about 16 percentage points and Virginia by 10 points. Yet both gubernatorial races are at razor thin margins in the polls.
But the president’s approval figures have dropped dramatically following the chaotic US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic — as well as rising inflation and a supply-chain crisis.
On Monday, the Youngkin campaign released an ad featuring a mother who years ago sought to have the book “Beloved” banned from classrooms in suburban Washington. The acclaimed 1987 novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison is about an escaped slave who kills her infant daughter rather than allowing the girl to be returned to the plantation.
The mother’s advocacy led to state legislation McAuliffe vetoed in 2016 and 2017 that would have let parents opt out of having their children study classroom materials with sexually explicit content.
McAuliffe’s campaign and fellow Democrats blasted Youngkin’s ad and accused him of trying to “silence” Black authors, which McAuliffe said amounted to a “racist dog whistle.”
Harris, meanwhile, will help McAuliffe close out his campaign Friday with a rally in Norfolk. She campaigned with him in northern Virginia last week.
Harris will appear with “Happy” signer Pharrell Williams in one of the state’s traditionally Democratic strongholds to help boost turnout, including among African-Americans and younger voters, including nearby college students.
Obama campaigned for McAuliffe last weekend.
The Virginia race has featured debate over the rights of parents to influence school policy and broader debate about Biden’s agenda.
The former seat of the Confederacy moved dramatically toward Democrats in recent elections due in part to suburban sprawl in northern Virginia. The state this year legalized recreational marijuana before deep-blue northern neighbor Maryland.
But Virginia’s Democratic establishment has been embroiled in scandal since 2019 revelations that Gov. Ralph Northam had a medical school yearbook page featuring one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. His Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault and third-in-line Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he too wore blackface.
Recently, Democrats sought to paper-over the racially insensitive conduct of the state’s current leaders. Biden in May appeared at an event with the disgraced governor, who refused to resign.
In a recent interview, former Virginia Democratic Gov. Douglas Wilder, who was the first black governor of a state since Reconstruction from 1990-1994 and subsequently Richmond mayor from 2005-2009, said that McAuliffe may fail to turn out voters.
Virginians “are independent-thinking people,” Wilder told the Washington Examiner. “And you see what the polls are showing as it relates to independents: Youngkin is leading with independents as they crossover.”
When asked how he would explain potentially low African-American turnout, Wilder responded, “The better question would be: ‘What reasons do they have to turn out?’”
— with Associated Press