President BidenJoe BidenSouth Africa health minister calls travel bans over new COVID variant 'unjustified' Biden attends tree lighting ceremony after day out in Nantucket Senior US diplomat visiting Southeast Asia to 'reaffirm' relations MORE is looking into the jaws of two major challenges.
He is desperate to move his legislative agenda forward within days on Capitol Hill. And whether he succeeds or fails could make all the difference in a vital gubernatorial race in Virginia, where early voting has already begun and Election Day is Nov. 2
The president crossed the Potomac River to Arlington, Va., on Tuesday evening to campaign for Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe.
McAuliffe, a power player in Democratic politics for decades and a former governor, is in a dogfight against his Republican opponent, businessman Glenn Youngkin.
Four polls in recent days have shown the race effectively tied. That’s a troublesome vista for Biden, who carried the commonwealth by 10 points over former President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE last November. Whatever momentum there is appears to favor Youngkin, who trailed in polls until recently.
That makes the fate of Biden’s big bill expanding social spending all the more vital.
The proposed legislation has been tied up for weeks amid Democratic ructions over what exactly it will contain. Biden needs some real progress before he flies to Europe on Thursday — and a breakthrough by that point would also give McAuliffe a crucial lift in the final stretch.
Some experts believe a continued logjam in Congress could spell doom for McAuliffe.
“The Republican wish list [in Virginia] would have to start with continued gridlock in Washington within the Democratic caucus,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
“The narrative that Democrats can’t govern is strengthened when Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWith extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Bernie Sanders' ex-spokesperson apprehensive over effectiveness of SALT deductions BBB threatens the role of parents in raising — and educating — children MORE do battle week after week,” Farnsworth added, referencing the senators from West Virginia and Vermont, respectively, who are the most prominent representatives of the centrist and progressive factions.
McAuliffe has prodded his party colleagues to “get their work done” in agreeing on the social spending package. The impasse on the legislation is also delaying progress on a popular $1 trillion bill dealing with traditional infrastructure.
The talks on Capitol Hill have been wreathed in congressional terminology about “reconciliation” and voting procedure — matters that are followed by political partisans but of little interest to the persuadable voters who might decide the Virginia race.
The interlinked outcome between the negotiations in Congress and the gubernatorial race could have a lasting impact on Biden’s fortunes, too.
A loss for McAuliffe in Virginia would spook Democrats who represent competitive states and districts across the nation — which would in turn make it even harder to keep them marching to Biden’s tune.
But some Democrats argue that a legislative deal on Capitol Hill, though welcome, is not the be-all and end-all for McAuliffe.
“If they were to get a deal, then you’d be heading into the final news cycle with Democrats on the upswing — how could it not help?” said Mark Bergman, a political adviser to current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). “But if it is not done, I think everything is the same, nothing has changed. It’s not like [McAuliffe] is doomed, it’s just the race is static.”
Republicans, meanwhile, are buoyed by Youngkin’s advance in the polls, by the traction he had got with his attacks on “wokeness” and alleged mismanagement in the school system, and by what they perceive to be momentum evident in everything from crowd sizes to lawn signs.
Key figures in the Virginia GOP argue Democrats are clutching at straws if they think a Capitol Hill deal could change the shape of the race.
George Allen, a Republican who was Virginia’s governor from 1994 to 1998 and later a U.S. senator, told this column that McAuliffe was “grasping at any line to pull him out of the bog.”
Referring to the machinations on Capitol Hill, Allen added that it was “typical of inside the Beltway types to think what centralized government does will save them.”
Allen argued that voters were unhappy about numerous issues on which the Democratic legislation would have no effect at all, including schools, rising gas prices, inflation and — in a state with a strong military tradition — the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Virginia race, though, could be seen as a referendum not just on Biden but on his predecessor.
McAuliffe has made every effort to tie Youngkin as closely as possible to former President Trump, who is notably unpopular in Virginia. Youngkin was endorsed by Trump but the former president not been invited onto the campaign trail, presumably for fear that he would harm the GOP nominee’s chances.
“If McAuliffe could wish for two things, one would be an agreement in Congress on the two major bills and the other would be a Trump appearance in Virginia,” Farnsworth, the political science professor, said.
The Democratic nominee appears sure to be frustrated in the second hope. But the first has at least a fighting chance of happening.
The stakes are huge.
New fundraising numbers released Tuesday showed the two candidates have now each raised well over $40 million. McAuliffe had an advantage in cash on hand going into the final stretch, with $7.8 million in the bank compared to Youngkin’s $3.5 million.
Even so, the Democrat may still need an assist from his colleagues on Capitol Hill to help him across the finish line.
There is no guarantee that he will get it.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.