President Biden on Friday launched a frontal attack on Donald Trump at a campaign rally for Terry McAuliffe, leading a concerted effort to tie the Democrat’s opponent in the Virginia governor’s race to the former president.

“I ran against Donald Trump and so is Terry,” said Biden, speaking in Arlington as the sun set during his first appearance on the campaign trail since taking office. “I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry.”

Later, he mentioned the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Saying, ‘I was told there were a lot of peaceful, wonderful people?’” Biden said incredulously. In an interview for the new book “I Alone Can Fix It,” written by Washington Post reporters, Trump said he addressed a “loving crowd” at a rally that day before the attack.

Biden’s comments amounted to some of his sharpest attacks on Trump since being sworn in. They came after a parade of introductory speakers also sought to tether Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin to Trump. McAuliffe told the crowd Youngkin is “not running for you, he’s running for Donald Trump.”

President Biden attacked former president Donald Trump on July 23 at a rally in Arlington for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D). (The Washington Post)

In attacking Trump by name, Biden signaled in the most direct terms yet his intention to help his party revive last year’s rivalry on the political battlefield. It also marked something of a rhetorical shift: Biden and White House officials have largely sought to avoid directly going after Trump since taking office, showing an inclination to turn the page rather than reignite old fights.

The broadsides from Biden and McAuliffe underlined the cornerstone of the Democratic Party strategy in the year’s most closely watched statewide election and offered a potential preview of the battle lines for next year’s midterm elections.

Youngkin spokesman Matt Wolking rejected the message. “It’s totally dishonest for Terry McAuliffe to use President Trump’s endorsement to smear Glenn Youngkin, when McAuliffe is actually friends with Trump and took thousands of dollars from Trump to fund his campaign,” he said.

Wolking was referring to Trump’s donation to McAuliffe’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2009. There is no evidence that McAuliffe and Trump are friends.

Friday’s event at a suburban park had the feel of a traditional campaign event from the pre-coronavirus pandemic times. The atmosphere was festive, with people getting ice cream from carts and Democrats roaming the entrance with clipboards in search of volunteer canvassers.

Upbeat tunes such as “Return of the Mack,” McAuliffe’s walk-up song, and “Let’s Get it Started” blared through loudspeakers. People crowded near the stage hours before the speakers appeared, the vast majority maskless.

The White House and McAuliffe campaign said that general attendees did not have to be tested for the coronavirus to attend. The invitation told fully vaccinated guests they didn’t have to wear masks; those who were not fully immunized were instructed to mask up and distance themselves.

A loss in Virginia would deal a massive setback to Biden and his party headed into the 2022 midterm elections. Midterms have tended to be unkind to the sitting president’s party, and a defeat in Virginia in November could augur an especially difficult congressional campaign for the Democrats.

“You’ve got to elect him again,” Biden said of McAuliffe. “Not just for Virginia, but for the country. The country’s looking.”

Youngkin is a former private-equity executive who has been seeking to introduce himself in television ads as a nonideological outsider. But Trump supports him, and only after the Republican primary did Youngkin explicitly acknowledge Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.

Youngkin is pitching himself as a fresh-voiced, business-friendly candidate. At the same time, the Virginia GOP is working to cast McAuliffe as an insider whose party has presided over rising violent crime and inflation rates.

On Friday night, McAuliffe praised Biden and asked attendees to envision a world in which he returns to the governor’s mansion while Biden is president. “Let me tell you, folks, this state is going to take off like a booster rocket,” he said.

McAuliffe won some of his loudest applause when he declared, “Joe Biden won that election fair and square.”

At one point, Biden was briefly heckled, as a protester interrupted his remarks prompted boos from the crowd. “This is not a Trump rally. Let him holler, No one’s paying attention to him,” Biden said.

Biden started his comments by touting his efforts to combat the pandemic. Addressing concerns about a rise in infections in recent weeks, Biden said, “What we have now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He said Republican leaders have recently had an “altar call” when it comes to the importance of coronavirus vaccines, alluding to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s (R) recent criticism of people who refuse to get vaccinated.

Among the Biden enthusiasts in the crowd was 9-year-old Rory Zielenbach, who had wanted a Biden bobblehead for Christmas. Her mother, Meghan Henning, 50, said she’d been searching for events to bring Rory to since more people have gotten vaccinated and pandemic restrictions have loosened.

“The fact that we’re standing here, not masked and we’ve been vaccinated, is just incredible,” said Henning.

Henning’s mother, Judy Henning, said that despite Biden’s victory, she still worries about Trump. “I think he’s quite frightening and unpredictable,” said Judy Henning, 79.

Biden’s appearance in deep blue Arlington highlighted the urgency of turning out the Democratic base and keeping the suburbs energized for McAuliffe and the party’s agenda. Mary Allen, 41, said she’s been pleased with Biden’s presidency so far, though she voiced skepticism about the impact Biden’s appearance would have on McAuliffe’s campaign.

“Assuming it’s local people, it’s like preaching to the choir,” Allen said.

For Biden, Friday marked a return to a setting he has long enjoyed but has been absent from for more than a year due to the pandemic. After scrapping an event in Ohio on March 10, 2020, due to the coronavirus, Biden largely hunkered down at his home in Delaware for a months-long stretch.

He resumed regular travel in the fall, but even then his events had a different feel. Often, he held car rallies where supporters would watch him speak from inside their vehicles. At other in-person events, attendees wore face masks and their temperatures were checked upon entry.

Friday’s rally marked the first time Biden has hit the campaign trail in earnest since becoming president. Although he headlined a Democratic National Committee rally in Georgia in April and has hosted virtual events with party donors, he had yet to venture out to events for specific candidates.

Virginia, which Biden won comfortably in November, poses a major test for the party. Democratic Party leaders and strategists see the governor’s race as a must-win in a state that has trended increasingly blue in recent years, but not all the historical trends bode well for Democrats. Virginia has a long record of electing governors who belong to a different party than the one that claimed the White House the previous year. McAuliffe, who was elected in 2013, was an exception.

Before the event, a group of women, all longtime Democrats and Arlington residents, discussed how exciting it was to be back out in person supporting candidates.

“It’s like the good old days,” Susan Prokop said.