President Biden returned to the campaign trail for Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday, urging Virginia voters to back the former governor in the tight race for his old job against Republican Glenn Youngkin.

“You all know the stakes,” Biden told the crowd during a chilly evening at Arlington’s Virginia Highlands Park. “You don’t have to wonder what kind of governor Terry will be, because you know what a great governor he was.”

The rally, featuring a who’s who of top Democratic elected officials from Northern Virginia, marked the second time this year that Biden had crossed the Potomac to headline a rally alongside McAuliffe, a longtime friend.

But with national attention on Virginia just a week before the state conducts the first real electoral test of the Biden presidency, the stage was bigger Tuesday and the stakes were higher.

Already, national Democratic Party strategists are looking to Virginia as an indicator of the party’s chances in next year’s midterm congressional elections — and of voter attitudes toward Biden. After Biden retained strong popularity during his first six months in office, his approval numbers started slipping in August amid a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and a Capitol Hill logjam over his domestic agenda.

McAuliffe himself has said that Biden is unpopular. He has tried to distance himself from the president in some ways and called on Democrats to set aside their disagreements and push through a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

As the two men took the stage on Tuesday night, that goal remained unfulfilled. Given the cheery compliments the two gave each other, though, it would have been difficult to tell.

Biden, who introduced himself as Jill Biden’s husband, mentioned that he had come to Arlington only because the first lady teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, just a few miles away.

“Terry’s going to be her boss,” he said, eliciting light laughter from the crowd. He then went on to praise McAuliffe’s efforts to improve rail transportation in Virginia, expand prekindergarten and secure high-speed broadband across the state.

Much like when he campaigned for McAuliffe in July, Biden sought aggressively to link Youngkin to former president Donald Trump, mentioning Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and tying Youngkin to that rhetoric, as well as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Extremism can come in many forms. It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest,” he said, referring to Youngkin’s red outfit on the campaign trail. “Either way, the ‘big lie’ is still the ‘big lie.’”

As Youngkin embarks on a final, 50-stop tour across the state, the former private equity executive has kept Trump at arm’s length in his appeal for moderate and independent suburban voters.

Trump has offered several endorsements of the Republican candidate, at one point calling into a rally on his behalf earlier this month. But Youngkin has on several occasions evaded saying whether he wants the former president’s support.

Former vice president Mike Pence also is making an appearance in Virginia. He is set to speak in Loudoun County on Thursday on the topic of “educational freedom.”

While the address is not being billed as a campaign event, Loudoun is the main venue where Youngkin and other Republicans have rallied against critical race theory, an academic concept that is not included in Virginia public school curriculums.

Next week’s election also includes competitive races for lieutenant governor, attorney general and every seat in the 100-member House of Delegates, where Democrats are defending a 55-to-45 majority.

The Nov. 2 Virginia election has become an unexpectedly close contest. The commonwealth holds elections for governor, lieutenant governor and statewide offices. (Luis Velarde, Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

The party is hoping to preserve the legislative advantage that has enabled it to push Virginia leftward on matters from marijuana to the death penalty, much of it powered by anti-Trump sentiment.

Trump’s absence from the ballot will test whether Democrats can maintain their hold on power in Richmond without a similar animating force — and as their party’s leader faces fallen approval numbers.

But even amid questions about Biden’s popularity, those huddling under the floodlights Tuesday night voiced strong enthusiasm for Biden and McAuliffe. In interviews, some brushed aside the president’s poll numbers and blamed his dearth of legislative accomplishments on Republican resistance.

Divya Kapoor, a 22-year-old tech analyst who just moved to Arlington’s Pentagon City neighborhood from Maryland, said she was still researching the candidates in her new state. But having voted for Biden last year, she could not ignore his support for McAuliffe.

“It must be significant if Biden is willing to put his weight behind him,” she said. “On a policy level and on an ideas level, the president of the United States putting his support behind your platform is definitely a good sign.”

Nargiza Gikashvili, a painter and art dealer who lives in Arlington, said she came to the rally to see Biden, describing him as “nice” and “someone I could be friends with.”

When it comes to McAuliffe, however, “I don’t know much about him,” said Gikashvili, 47. “But if our president supports him, then I support [him].”

And for Brian Stillwaugh, 42, a stay-at-home dad and Alexandria resident, Trump was still enough of a motivating factor to cast his entire ballot in favor of the Democratic ticket.

“I’ve always considered myself to be a moderate, but I haven’t liked the direction the Republican Party has been headed in,” he said, wearing an “I Voted” sticker from his early-voting trip to the polls earlier that afternoon.