Obama to campaign with McAuliffe, ahead of Virginia gubernatorial election with national implications

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With the Virginia gubernatorial race a razor-tight margin of error contest just three weeks until Election Day, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is bringing out some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party to help him energize Democrats to vote.

McAuliffe’s team announced on Tuesday that former President Obama will campaign with the former governor in the state capital city of Richmond a week from Saturday, on Oct. 23. Even after nearly five years removed from the White House, the former two-term president remains very popular and influential with voters in his own party.

“Folks, I’m excited to announce that President Obama will be joining me,” McAuliffe wrote on Twitter.

An average of the latest polls in the race indicates that McAuliffe – who’s running for his old job – holds a slight, single-digit edge over Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin in a state that President Biden won by 10 points in last year’s election and where Republicans haven’t won a statewide contest in a dozen years. 

The Cook Report, a top nonpartisan political handicapper, three weeks ago shifted its ranking of the race from “lean Democratic” to “toss up.”

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, participate in their debate at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold gubernatorial elections in  the year after the presidency’s decided, guaranteeing they always grab outsized attention. 

There’s a long-running trend of voters in the commonwealth defeating the gubernatorial nominee of the party that controls the White House. McAuliffe broke with that tradition in 2013 with his election as governor in the year after Obama was reelected. McAuliffe was unable to run for reelection in 2017 because Virginia governors are barred from serving two straight terms.

The close contest in Virginia – a one-time key battleground but still competitive state which is seen as a key bellwether ahead of the 2022 midterm elections – has national Democrats on edge as they defend their razor-thin majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in next year’s contests.

The latest surveys indicate that Republican voters are more motivated than their Democratic counterparts. And McAuliffe’s putting on a full court press to get Democrats to cast ballots in the current early voting period, or to go to the polls on Election Day.

While Obama’s the biggest name to join McAuliffe in the coming days, the former governor will also campaign with First Lady Jill Biden on Friday in Richmond.

And McAuliffe will team up on the campaign trail this upcoming weekend with voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House Democratic leader who in 2018 made history as the first Black female gubernatorial nominee of a major political party.

McAuliffe’s lead over Youngkin, a first-time candidate and former CEO of a large private equity firm, started shrinking over the summer amid the sinking of Biden’s approval ratings due to criticism of the president’s handling of the turbulent U.S. exit from Afghanistan, the surge in COVID-19 cases this summer mainly among unvaccinated people due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, and the latest surge of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. along the southern border with Mexico.

And the inability to date by the White House and congressional Democrats – due to an intra-party battle between progressives and moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill – to agree on the party’s massive social spending, human infrastructure and climate change package, as well as a bipartisan infrastructure bill – has forced McAuliffe to criticize his own party.

The former governor’s repeatedly said it’s time for lawmakers in Washington “to stop their little chitty-chat up there, and it’s time for them to pass it.”

Biden’s approval ratings in Virginia have deteriorated, and McAuliffe, in a recent video conference clip that Republicans spotlighted, acknowledged that “we are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know. The president is unpopular today, unfortunately here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through.”

Biden last teamed up with McAuliffe on the campaign trail in late July in the voter-rich and heavily Democratic Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. There’s no word from the McAuliffe campaign on whether another Biden-McAuliffe rally is in the works.

By contrast, there’s no indication that former President Trump, who’s endorsed Youngkin, will come to Virginia to campaign with the GOP nominee.

McAuliffe’s been repeatedly linking Youngkin to Trump, who remains deeply unpopular with many Virginia voters.

McAuliffe constantly calls Youngkin, who’s been endorsed by the former president, a “Trump wannabe,” and doesn’t miss an opportunity at campaign events, interviews and during the two debates between the nominees to tie Youngkin to Trump. 

On Monday, the McAuliffe campaign went up with a new digital ad accusing Youngkin of “putting Trump’s agenda first.”

Fox News’ Mike Emanuel contributed to this story 

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