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Virginia braces for Election Day as polls show dead heat between McAuliffe, Youngkin

Virginia’s gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin is tightening as Election Day nears. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

Glenn Youngkin (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) crisscrossed Virginia on Monday in a final appeal to voters, seeking to energize their bases as the neck-and-neck race for governor draws to a close.

Virginians will go to the polls Tuesday to choose the commonwealth’s chief executive in a race that is drawing national attention for what it might reveal about party politics when former president Donald Trump is not on the ballot and in the first year of a Joe Biden presidency.

Virginia is one of just two states that hold statewide elections the year after a presidential contest, and the race is often viewed as a referendum on the party in the White House — and how that party might fare in the midterm congressional elections the following year.

Both campaigns have shattered fundraising records, drawing money through issues of national import — including the coronavirus pandemic and the abortion law in Texas. Those issues underscore the differences between McAuliffe, who supports some mask and vaccine mandates and favors abortion rights, and Youngkin, a former private equity executive, who is against virus-related mandates and opposes abortion.

Although Virginia has trended blue in recent years, Youngkin has gained momentum in the past few weeks in advertisements and stump speeches about parental involvement in public schools. Recent polls suggest that the contest is a toss-up.

The election also stands to shape state politics down the ticket, with voters selecting a new lieutenant governor and attorney general as well as all 100 seats in the House of Delegates. No matter who wins, the state will see its first woman of color in statewide office. Republican Winsome E. Sears is Black and Democrat Haya S. Ayala identifies as Afro-Latina, Irish and Lebanese.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) is seeking a third term against Del. Jason S. Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), who would become the state’s first Latino attorney general.

A guide to the Virginia elections: The races, the candidates and where they stand on the issues

McAuliffe and Youngkin sketched out similar paths across the state on Monday, starting the day with dueling get-out-the-vote events near Roanoke. Both made stops in Richmond before closing out the last full day of campaigning in Northern Virginia. Youngkin also added an appearance in Hampton Roads.

Youngkin called his closing event in Loudoun County a “parents matter rally,” homing in on his message of parental involvement in schools in the jurisdiction where the issue first gained steam.

The Republican regularly energizes his rallies by promising to ban critical race theory, an intellectual movement examining systemic racism that is not part of Virginia’s K-12 curriculum, and he has tapped into a nationwide conservative movement of parental grievance against local school boards. He has said that parents should have more of a say in their children’s education.

Youngkin has tried to woo the Trump base of the GOP while also keeping the former president at arm’s length, avoiding campaigning with him in a state that picked Biden by 10 points last year. But Trump has continually inserted himself into the race, issuing multiple statements about Youngkin and calling in to Republican rallies.

On Monday, the former president released a statement declaring that he and Youngkin “get along very well together and strongly believe in many of the same policies. Especially when it comes to the important subject of education.”

McAuliffe, meanwhile, has brought in numerous high-profile Democrats to energize the party, from Biden to former president Barack Obama and Vice President Harris. McAuliffe is battling a perception that Democratic voters are exhausted after four years of opposing Trump, and he is aiming to boost turnout in an off-year election that traditionally sees light balloting.

He has also accused Youngkin of using schools and children as “political pawns” and called the GOP nominee’s invocation of critical race theory “a big dog whistle.” He has focused more on other matters in education, saying he wants to raise teacher pay above the national average and expand preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds in need.

As with other policy issues in the race, the campaigns have clashed on McAuliffe’s record as governor. Both sides appear to be seizing on the fact that the Democrat would be only the second person since the Civil War to serve twice in the Executive Mansion, with the GOP hammering away at his record and Democrats pointing to his wins in office. In Virginia, governors cannot succeed themselves, so there is never an incumbent on the ballot.

Last week, the campaigns traded barbs over what came to be known as Virginia’s “Beloved bill,” which would have allowed parents to opt their children out of sexually explicit reading assignments. It was coined in reference to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Toni Morrison novel, which contains graphic descriptions of sex and violence in its depiction of a Civil War-era Black woman.

Youngkin released an ad featuring the Fairfax County mother whose complaints about the novel sparked the legislation, slamming McAuliffe’s veto of the bill and a similar one in 2017.

Over the weekend in Alexandria, Youngkin said he would not be part of a planned tele-rally that Trump planned to headline Monday evening, avoiding a mention of the former president by name. It was the second time in recent weeks that he has declined to join Trump on the campaign trail.

Trump urges support for Youngkin the day before Virginia’s gubernatorial election

Trump’s former Virginia chairman, John Fredericks, has said that the ex-president would speak in a teleconference to “thousands and thousands” of his Virginia supporters. The event is closed to the news media; only Trump loyalists already known to event organizers received an invitation.

In a second statement Monday afternoon, the former president again pledged his support for Youngkin, writing: “Everything is on the line in this election, and every MAGA voter should strongly support Glenn Youngkin.”

Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.