McAuliffe brings in big guns as Democratic worries grow over Virginia
Democrat Terry McAuliffe announced Tuesday that former President Obama will join him next week on the campaign trail amid rising fears among Democrats that they may be in danger of losing Virginia’s gubernatorial contest.
Democrats have rolled out their A-listers in recent weeks as polls show McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin in an increasingly tight race.
Obama campaigned for McAuliffe during his first gubernatorial run in 2013 and for Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in 2017 — elections Democrats won by 2.6 points and 8.9 points, respectively — but the announcement comes as a slew of other high-profile Democrats are slated to campaign for McAuliffe in the final three weeks leading up to Election Day.
“Virginia’s always close. This is an off, off year,” McAuliffe told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday. “We’ve just gone through the presidential election, and, you know, turnout drops significantly. So the whole goal here is to make sure you get your voters to the polls. This is a huge election for us.”
In addition to Obama, who will join McAuliffe on Oct. 23, the White House announced on Monday that first lady Jill Biden will stump in the state. Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has become one of the biggest names in the party, will also hit the campaign trail for McAuliffe, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will campaign with him on Sunday in Richmond.
“Of course there’s a growing fear that we’ll lose this race, and if we lost it would have huge ramifications,” said one Democratic strategist. “It would be a huge embarrassment for Democrats.”
The Obama and Abrams appearances particularly show the campaign is aiming to drive turnout by speaking directly to Black voters, strategists say.
“Both Stacey and Barack Obama, not only are they popular among African American voters. They’re popular among key constituencies within the African American vote, and that’s Black women and men and young voters,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. “Without those constituencies within the Black community, you cannot get what you need in terms of maximum turnout.”
The race has become a test case for President Biden, as the White House can check the temperature of voters in the key swing state. But it has taken on increased importance while former President Trump considers a 2024 race.
“If Youngkin wins in Virginia, it increases the likelihood that Trump runs in 2024,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, who served as a spokesman on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “These folks campaigning for Terry McAuliffe help crystallize the choice for voters in an election that’s increasingly about whether to go back to Trump-style leadership or not.”
Ferguson added that Democratic enthusiasm in the race is growing: “As the race has come into view for people, the enthusiasm gap has closed.”
“There’s no better closer for the enthusiasm gap than people like President Obama and first lady Jill Biden,” Ferguson said.
Aiming to energize support among Democrats, McAuliffe made the Obama announcement during his Tuesday appearance on “Morning Joe.”
“There’s going to be a lot of excitement,” he said. “The stakes are so huge. People don’t understand. They come out in presidential years, but they have to come out in this off year.”
While McAuliffe has maintained a lead in recent weeks, polls show the race tightening quickly as the Nov. 2 election draws closer.
A Christopher Newport University poll out last week showed McAuliffe leading Youngkin 49 percent to 44 percent, within the 4.2 percentage point margin of error. But the poll showed that McAuliffe had lost ground since late August, when the same poll showed him with a 9-point lead over Youngkin.
Biden campaigned with McAuliffe in July but hasn’t made an appearance alongside the candidate since then. At an education roundtable on Tuesday, McAuliffe said Biden will be back on the stump.
“He’ll be coming back,” the former governor said. “You bet he will.”
But last week, he told a group of supporters on a virtual call that Biden’s falling poll numbers — and the gridlock in general in Washington — have hurt his campaign.
“We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know,” he said, according to CNN. “The president is unpopular today unfortunately here in Virginia, so we got to plow through.”
McAuliffe walked back the comments a few days later. “It’s not dragging me down,” he said of the legislative standstill in Washington.
But privately Democrats worry that Biden’s numbers are taking a toll on McAuliffe’s prospects, particularly as independents move away from the president.
“It certainly isn’t helpful,” the Democratic strategist said.
On Tuesday, after McAuliffe made the Obama announcement, the Youngkin campaign pounced.
“Terry McAuliffe is scared because Virginians are roundly rejecting 40-year politician Terry McAuliffe’s plans to defund the police, strip parents of their rights to have a say in their children’s education, and to fire people who don’t follow his authoritarian vaccine mandates,” said Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter. “So his response is to bring in more politicians to help draw a crowd larger than 12 people.”