By Dan Merica, CNN
President Joe Biden on Tuesday excoriated Virginia Republican Glenn Youngkin during his final event with Democrat Terry McAuliffe ahead of next week’s election, repeatedly comparing the gubernatorial candidate to former President Donald Trump.
Biden’s remarks were a point-by-point upbraiding of both Youngkin and Trump, building on a campaign-long strategy by McAuliffe to link his Republican opponent to the former President, who lost Virginia by 10 points last fall. With polls showing a tied race, Biden’s visit — just his second to the state for this campaign — followed those of other top national Democrats who have hit the trail for McAuliffe in recent weeks to try to gin up enthusiasm among the base.
The heart of Biden’s argument was that Youngkin has lauded the former President but kept him at arm’s length during the close of the campaign. At times, it appeared as if the President were looking to goad Trump into a last-minute Virginia trip, something Virginia Democrats would wholly welcome.
“Terry’s opponent has made all of his private pledges of loyalty to Donald Trump. But what is really interesting to me is he won’t stand next to Donald Trump now that the campaign is on,” Biden said. “Think about it. He won’t allow Donald Trump to campaign with him in this state.”
Biden continued: “He is willing to pledge his loyalty to Trump in private, why not in public? What is he trying to hide? Is there a problem with Trump being here? Is he embarrassed?”
Democrats have tried for months to seize on Trump’s lack of popularity in Virginia as a way to take down Youngkin. Before the general election even began, McAuliffe told CNN he would personally pay for the jet fuel needed to get Trump to Virginia just so he could have an image of the two together.
McAuliffe continued with that strategy on Tuesday.
“I always, always try to find common ground. As you know, I will work with anyone at any time, including reasonable Republicans. But make no mistake, Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” McAuliffe said, later comparing his opponent’s position on Covid-19 precautions, the economy and education to Trump’s.
Biden reminded the crowd that Virginia backed McAuliffe, who previously served as governor from 2014 to 2018, once before and then questioned whether they know Youngkin as well.
“How well do you know Terry’s opponent?” Biden said. “Just remember this: I ran against Donald Trump, and Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump.”
The race to be Virginia’s next governor, one of two off-year gubernatorial elections, has become the most hotly contested and closely watched races in the country. Polls, including a recent Monmouth survey that had both candidates at 46%, have the race neck-and-neck.
Democratic turnout concerns
Democrats are worried that a series of high-stakes elections have left their base exhausted and unlikely to turn out in the same way they do during presidential elections, something Biden looked to address on Tuesday night.
“The Republican Party nationally stands for nothing. Not a joke. Nothing. Just look around. Just look around, what’s happening with the governor of Texas and Florida,” Biden said, adding later, “We can’t let that happen in Virginia.”
He added: “So Virginia, show up like you did for Barack and me. Show up like you did for me and Kamala.”
A string of Democratic surrogates have used Trump to attack Youngkin, including former President Barack Obama over the weekend, in hopes of motivating base voters to show up and vote.
The Biden visit comes at a critical moment for both his party and his agenda, with two major spending bills on the verge of either being passed through a Democratic-controlled Congress or bring sunk by infighting within his own party. Biden hopes to sign both a $1.2 trillion infrastructure proposal and a larger social spending bill in the coming days, ahead of leaving the country for a swing through Europe.
The uncertainty in Congress has loomed large over the race in Virginia, where early voting started weeks ago.
Democrats had hoped McAuliffe would be able to run on a successfully passed infrastructure package, but continual delays on Capitol Hill have made unlikely the prospect of a deal coming together and being passed before Election Day — which McAuliffe has used to lambast Congress.
“I say: Do your job,” McAuliffe said earlier in the month. “You got elected to Congress. We in the states are desperate for this infrastructure money. … We need help out here in the states, and people elected you to do your job.”
And while he has publicly argued the bill is more important for the people of Virginia than for his political fortunes, his aides and advisers have privately worried that gridlock in Washington could lead Democrats to despair about the state of their party and not turn out to vote. These concerns are particularly potent in the vote-rich Northern Virginia suburbs, where voters are more attuned to the machinations of Washington.
If McAuliffe wins, Democrats will take the victory as validation that a state that has trended blue over the last decade still stands behind Biden’s agenda and against Republicans, even if Trump is not on the ballot.
History is not on Democrats’ side, however: Since the 1970s, the winner of Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial election has nearly always come from the party in opposition to the White House. The only exception was in 2013, when McAuliffe won his first gubernatorial term a year after then-President Barack Obama won reelection.
But even if McAuliffe wins a tight race, the result could spell warning signs for Democrats in Washington, given Biden’s 10-point victory there just last year and the fact that the party in power in the White House often loses seats in the subsequent midterms.
For Youngkin, a win would reverberate far beyond Virginia — where a Republican has not won statewide in 12 years — and deliver the GOP a jolt of momentum heading into 2022. And while each campaign is different and Youngkin, who came into the race as largely a blank slate with unlimited money, is a unique figure, a possible win would validate his strategy of leaning into Trump’s rhetoric at times while also distancing himself to instead focus on local issues like public education.
Biden at times looked gleeful on Tuesday as he went after Youngkin and Trump.
In an extended riff on extremism, the President also had some sartorial commentary about the Republican candidate, telling the audience that extremism can “come in a smile and a fleece vest,” a reference to what Youngkin often wears while campaigning.
Youngkin on Wednesday lightheartedly responded to Biden’s comments during a conversation with reporters in Roanoke, joking that at least Biden “recognizes that this is a vest and not a fleece.” He was referring to Obama telling an audience in Richmond last week that “you can’t run ads telling me you are a regular old hoops-playing, dish-washing, fleece-wearing guy, but quietly cultivate support from those who seek to tear down our democracy.”
Youngkin said, “All that Terry McAuliffe knows to do is to bring in all these folks that don’t live here and give them the same old talking points they’ve been using for 43 years.”
Biden’s trip to Virginia was a short one — roughly four miles from the White House to Virginia Highlands Park. It’s a trend of the President, whose event for McAuliffe over the summer was just seven miles from the White House.
This story has been updated Wednesday with comments from Youngkin.
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