Obama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe
Former President Obama is hitting the campaign trail with Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Saturday in hopes of energizing a relatively unexcited Democratic base ahead of what is expected to be a nail biter of an election next month.
McAuliffe and his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin are neck and neck in recent polls, but it’s the enthusiasm gap between the two parties that has Democrats on edge. A Monmouth University poll showed 49 percent of Republican voters saying they are more enthusiastic than usual to vote in the election compared to 26 percent of Democrats.
Democrats say the issue is that the election is taking place a year after a brutally exhausting presidential election amid a pandemic, and that President Biden’s approval ratings in the Old Dominion are down. But they say with the help of Obama, arguably the most popular Democrat in the country, they will be able to fire up their base.
“It looks like a turnout election,” said Mark Rozell, dean and Ruth D. and John T. Hazel chair in public policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
On top of that, McAuliffe launched a “Get Out The Vote Bus Tour” on Friday, which included a stop with actor Blake Cooper Griffin. On Sunday, musician Dave Matthews will perform at a get-out-the-vote rally with McAuliffe, Abrams and Harrison in Charlottesville.
“These are major key Democratic players who are going to come into Virginia and give us a wonderful shot in the arm as far as voter enthusiasm goes because everyone will be so excited to see them and it’s a great reminder of who we are as Democrats and what we’re fighting for,” said former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D).
McAuliffe’s team has also pointed to recent fundraising numbers as a show of his grassroots support. The former governor’s communications director Christina Freundlich tweeted on Thursday that the campaign raised $600,0000 online alone during the day and has raised nearly $5 million online since Oct. 1.
“We can ascertain there’s an increased level of energy by the number of donors,” said Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D). “We’ve got twice as many donors, if not more small dollar donations as those on the other side of the aisle.”
Democrats have also employed other grassroots initiatives in the final weeks of the campaign, including Carroll Foy’s “Virginia For Everyone” PAC, which has the goal of knocking on 35,000 doors in key districts across the state.
“It’s always difficult in Virginia when you have these off-year elections,” Foy said. “We know what’s at stake because Virginia is a litmus test on the policies of the federal government and the president.”
Youngkin’s campaign has employed a different approach less than two weeks out from Election Day.
While the Republican has held smaller campaign events and fundraisers with GOP figures like former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, most of Youngkin’s larger rallies have not featured big-name Republican surrogates.
In fact, Youngkin’s “Win with Glenn Bus Tour,” which kicks off Saturday in Henrico County, Va., will not feature any national surrogates and instead include Virginians whose stories represent the campaign’s message.
Youngkin has zeroed in strongly on the issue of parents’ rights in schools as an issue to fire up his conservative base. According to his campaign, Youngkin drew a crowd of nearly a thousand at a rally in Burke, Va., on Tuesday when he called for an investigation into the handling of two sexual assault cases at Loudoun County Public Schools.
The Republican nominee took an opportunity to swipe at McAuliffe when he announced the bus tour Friday, saying his opponent “relies on big-name surrogates to draw paltry apathetic crowds.”
But Democrats push back against this saying the enthusiasm at the grassroots level is growing as more Virginians tune into the off-year race in its final weeks.
“They’re waking up to the fact that yes, there is an election coming,” said one Democratic strategist.
Democrats also maintain that former President Trump, who was a major motivator for Virginia Democrats as the state trended blue during his administration, will still galvanize their base from outside of the White House.
“Glenn Youngkin will be a Donald Trump surrogate here in Virginia,” Foy said. “Donald Trump’s legacy is that he took over the Supreme Court and now Donald Trump wants to take over Virginia. We’re not going to allow it to happen.
While Virginia Democrats say they are universally amped about Obama’s visit, observers are skeptical of the impact of his get out the vote message.
“One should not overstate the ability of a popular politician to transfer his popularity automatically into large scale turnout,” Rozell said.