Biden to stump for McAuliffe in test of his electoral branding
President Biden will campaign for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday, one week out from an election that will test his electoral brand and amid one of the most consequential weeks of his presidency.
His appearance comes as he works to bridge a divide between Democrats on Capitol Hill to pass two major pieces of his agenda — a bipartisan infrastructure package and a massive spending package — while also preparing to face world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Rome later this week and at next week’s United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
It also comes as Biden’s approval ratings in Virginia tick down and the race between McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin tightens to a dead heat. The dynamic has raised questions about what impact Biden will have on the campaign trail as Democrats scramble to defend Virginia.
Biden follows a number of other big-name Democrats who have made appearances for McAuliffe, including former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, first lady Jill Biden and former President Obama. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm campaigned with McAuliffe on Monday in Fairfax.
Virginia is widely being viewed as a bellwether ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Democrats have made inroads in the state over recent years, winning control of both legislative bodies and maintaining their hold on the governor’s mansion.
Biden will visit Virginia Highlands Park in Arlington, just a 15-minute drive from the White House, to campaign for McAuliffe on Tuesday. The president in July went to Northern Virginia to campaign for the former governor.
“The fact that Joe Biden is only willing to barely cross the Potomac and rally in blazing-blue Arlington tells you everything you need to know about how scared Democrats are about their base and also their toxicity with middle-of-the-road voters in the rest of the state,” said Brent Buchanan, a Republican pollster and CEO of the polling firm Cygnal.
On Monday, Cygnal released a poll showing the two candidates tied at 48.3 percent each. The same survey showed Biden’s unfavorable rating at 50 percent and his favorable rating at 48 percent. The findings appear to match other recent polls, including one from Monmouth University that found McAuliffe and Youngkin tied at 46 percent each. The same survey also showed Biden’s approval down to 43 percent and his disapproval rating up to 52 percent.
And it’s not just Virginia that has Democrats on edge.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli has shrunk to just 6 points. An Emerson College-PIX 11 poll last week found 50 percent of voters said they would vote for Murphy and 44 percent said Ciattarelli. In September, a poll from Monmouth University found Murphy was polling ahead by 13 points.
But Democratic officials are brushing off questions about whether they have concerns about polling.
“Personally, I know a lot about polls — they go up, they go down and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison told reporters on Saturday.
Democrats also point to other parts of Biden’s record like the passage of the American Rescue Plan and his handling of the vaccine rollout to tout Democratic successes since he moved into the White House.
“We’re so grateful to the Biden-Harris administration for so many historic accomplishments and achievements already, including getting us through COVID-19 with their expediency with the vaccines, with the American Rescue Plan,” said Virginia state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D). “I think they’ve provided us such hope moving forward and we’re looking forward to the visit.”
Biden promoted his economic agenda in New Jersey with Murphy on Monday. When asked if the trip reflects any concerns over the gubernatorial race, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, “The president did endorse Gov. Murphy but … he’s in New Jersey today to continue highlighting the importance of his two domestic economic policies.”
Biden hopes to have a deal on the Democrats’ reconciliation package before he leaves on Thursday for Rome and then attends the climate change conference in Glasgow.
“It would be very, very positive to get it done before the trip,” he told reporters on Monday.
He had a rare breakfast meeting in Wilmington, Del., with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key player to getting a deal, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday.
Republicans are not convinced a passage before Nov. 2 would make a huge difference on Election Day in Virginia.
“Voters don’t live in a pure headline driven world,” said Virginia-based GOP strategist Zack Roday. “It’s ‘What’s impacting my life,’ and infrastructure took forever. So even if it by a miracle was done, I don’t see it making a huge difference or at least it’s not the silver bullet that they might think it is.”
Negotiations are centered around reducing the price tag of the $3.5 trillion package to get support from moderates Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The bill includes key elements of Biden’s domestic agenda, including paid family leave, universal pre-K, extending the child tax credit and funding to combat climate change.
Passing the sweeping budget bill before Nov. 2 would give McAuliffe a concrete piece of Democratic legislation out of Washington to point to on Election Day.
The former Virginia governor would be able to tie himself to a Biden victory, noting he is from the same party. A win could also rev up voters in Northern Virginia, who are integral to Virginia’s Democratic coalition and often tuned into the political happenings of Washington, D.C.
Harrison signaled he was confident that Democrats on Capitol Hill would pass the pieces of legislation despite the intraparty bickering.
“The one thing I understand is this: we are a very diverse party,” Harrison said. “We’re a party that ranges from Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden and everything in between, but as a result we look like America. And so America has different ideas and thoughts on different things and it takes us a little longer to get through the process.”
“If we were as monolithic as the Republican Party, then yeah, we would probably have it done just like that, but we’re not,” he added.