The most aggressive has been Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who labors under the weight of President Biden’s sinking job-approval ratings. The former governor said as much in what he evidently believed was a private Oct. 5 videoconference with two-dozen supporters that the Republican National Committee somehow intercepted and distributed widely via traditional and social media channels.
“We’ve got to get Democrats out to vote. We are facing a lot of head winds from Washington, as you know. The president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia. So we have got to plow through,” McAuliffe says in the 12-second clip.
Given the awkwardness with Biden, the best available Democratic heavy hitters have been summoned to Virginia.
On Friday, McAuliffe joined first lady Jill Biden in get-out-the-vote activities in the Richmond area.
McAuliffe campaigned Sunday in Norfolk and Northern Virginia with Stacey Abrams, who is widely credited for swinging largely Republican Georgia behind Biden and Democrats Raphael G. Warnock and Jon Ossoff last year to fill both of Georgia’s previously GOP U.S. Senate seats, earning her party a narrow U.S. Senate majority.
Former president Barack Obama heads to Richmond to campaign with McAuliffe on Saturday to stimulate in-person early voting ahead of the Oct. 30 early voting deadline.
For Youngkin, it’s more like a nuanced game of keep-away — from former president Donald Trump or figures closely tied to him. Trump not only lost Virginia twice by comfortable margins, but he was also so disliked that Democrats since 2016 have dominated every statewide election, won state legislative majorities and now hold seven of Virginia’s 11 U.S. House districts.
Youngkin is trying to maintain a difficult equilibrium between respect for Trump sufficient to please Trump voters who dominate the GOP yet distant enough that he doesn’t spook suburban independents and even some moderate Republicans.
Trump, for his part, seems oblivious. He has endorsed Youngkin several times, most recently on Wednesday via a remote connection to a “Take Back Virginia” rally for pro-Trump activists near Richmond. According to media reports, participants pledged allegiance to a U.S. flag used by U.S. Capitol rioters in what the rally emcee called “a peaceful rally with Donald J. Trump on January 6.” Trump suggested during his remarks that he may yet come to Virginia on Youngkin’s behalf. No one wants that more than McAuliffe.
Pressed by reporters on Thursday whether he wanted Trump to campaign with him, Youngkin, who did not attend the rally, dodged the question, saying only that his name, not Trump’s, is on the ballot. He said that the flag carried in the Capitol assault should not have been used for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Those questions illustrate the dilemma a nationalized race poses for Youngkin as he looks to end a 12-year GOP drought in statewide elections.
Though Youngkin and allied organizations align with national GOP messaging on themes such as opposing vaccine mandates, spiking violent crime rates and domestic and foreign policy failures by a Democratic White House and Congress, Youngkin seems to be scoring points on some state-specific matters.
He proposes to end Virginia’s sales tax on groceries after the state realized a budget surplus topping $2 billion, much of it from federal pandemic relief allotments. Youngkin is also exploiting McAuliffe’s comment during the campaign’s second and final debate last month that parents should not tell public schools what their children are taught.
Both points have gained traction amid grocery shortages and price increases and as protests erupt at school board meetings nationally, particularly over mask mandates, restroom accommodations for students who identify as transgender and history courses that don’t conceal the nation’s troubled racial past.
One of only two statewide contests in the country this year and the first barometric reading of the nation’s politics after last year’s tumultuous election and before next year’s midterms, how nationalized themes play in Virginia will inform the politics of 2022 and beyond.