Former vice president Joe Biden came to Virginia on Saturday to campaign with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, saying a victory on Nov. 7 would inspire Democrats in the era of President Trump.
“The only hope for leadership we have is at the state level,” Biden said during a roundtable discussion on workforce development in Reston, a D.C. suburb. “You have to win to . . . give people hope we are not falling into this know-nothing pit.”
Biden’s appearance came hours before his successor, Vice President Pence, headlined a rally for Northam’s Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, in southwest Virginia.
And it comes days before former president Barack Obama is expected to rally for Northam in Richmond, his first foray into a campaign trail since leaving the White House.
Biden has already been stumping for Democrats, recently rallying for Senate contender Doug Jones in Alabama and gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in New Jersey.
His venture into Virginia was a low-key affair: The event was closed to the general public and drew about 100 supportive Democratic activists and business leaders.
Biden sat next to Northam, grinning as he touted the lieutenant governor’s background as a U.S. Army doctor and joking that his Southern drawl reminded him of accents in Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula.
“I’ve campaigned for a lot of Democrats over my career, and not all are created equal,” said Biden. “The thing that I admire about Ralph — you can feel it, you can taste it — is the authenticity.”
Public polls have shown Northam is either tied with Gillespie or has a slight lead. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is prevented by law from seeking a second consecutive term.
Both Northam and Gillespie have emphasized the economy on the campaign trail: Northam touts a “G3” plan that would include free community college and workforce training, while Gillespie emphasizes tax cuts.
Biden on Saturday did not criticize Gillespie but called Northam’s economic development plan “first-rate.” The Obama administration pushed free community college in its final years, but the GOP-controlled Congress showed little interest.
Northam’s plan for free community college is a more conservative version of the higher-education proposals touted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
It is a “last-dollar” program where state funding kicks in after other forms of aid are exhausted, and it is limited to people seeking degrees in high-demand fields such as cybersecurity. It also requires recipients to perform a year of public service.
“There’s no free lunch, and all of us should have some skin in the game. That’s what I did,” said Northam, referring to his service in the U.S. Army after graduating from Virginia Military Institute.
Republicans dismissed the value of Biden’s help and poked fun at the limited reach of the venue.
“Ralph Northam needs national surrogates to get him across the finish line,” said Garren Shipley, a Virginia spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “When Joe Biden isn’t excited about Northam’s campaign, there are bigger enthusiasm issues that extend deep into his base.”
David Turner, Northam’s spokesman, said the campaign chose a closed roundtable with Biden as the best way to highlight his economic development message.
The event came after federal regulators late Friday announced approval for a pair of interstate natural gas pipelines set to cross Virginia. Environmentalists and rural residents who live near the planned pipeline routes have called on Northam to oppose the projects.
But Northam has said he would support the pipelines if regulators determine they meet safety and environmental standards. Gillespie challenged Northam to clearly support the pipelines in light of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision.
Asked for his response Saturday, Northam noted that two other agencies still need to sign off on the controversial projects: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Quality.