Although Biden did not mention Glenn Youngkin’s name, he directly linked the Republican businessman-to-politician to Trump, another businessman-to-politician who lost Virginia hands down in 2016. and 2020. Biden echoed the argument McAuliffe put at the center of his own. bid.
“You have to elect him again, and I mean that, not just for Virginia, for the country. The country is watching, these elections outside the year, the country is watching. It’s a big deal, ”Biden said. “Terry and I share a lot of things in common. I ran against Donald Trump and Terry too. And I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and Terry too. “
The President added, “I’m telling you what, the guy Terry is running against is a sidekick of Donald Trump – for real, I mean, it’s like, I don’t know where these guys are from. “
The event was Biden’s first candidate-specific in-person event since moving to the White House in January, and it represented his strongest attempt to use his political power to protect both Democratic candidates for across the country and its own political future.
For McAuliffe, the stakes are more personal. The former Virginia governor and longtime Democratic fundraiser is trying to do something rare by winning a second term as governor in a state that bars its leaders from serving successive terms. And in order to do that, he plans to spend much of his time linking Youngkin to Trump.
McAuliffe told voters on Friday that if he “ran for you,” Youngkin “wasn’t running for you, he was running for Donald Trump.” McAuliffe used the term “Trump-Youngkin Republicans” during the speech and said the Republican nominee was a “chicken” for refusing to debate him.
“Why are Glenn Youngkin and Donald Trump so close? McAuliffe asked. “Because they share the same agenda. ”
He was far from the only one attacking Youngkin on Friday night, however.
“You can cancel the tow truck, Mr. Youngkin, because we’re alive and well,” Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam yelled at the event, responding to Youngkin saying the state was in a ditch. “We don’t need the tow truck because we’re not in a ditch, and we don’t need you, Mr. Youngkin, in the Commonwealth of Virginia. ”
Youngkin campaign spokesman Matt Wolking responded to the attacks by stating that “it is utterly dishonest of Terry McAuliffe to use President Trump’s endorsement to smear Glenn Youngkin, while McAuliffe is in made friends with Trump and took thousands of dollars from Trump to fund his campaign ”.
CNN reported in 2009 that Trump wrote McAuliffe a check for $ 25,000 during his failed gubernatorial bid that year.
Biden’s political bet
To counter the story of the mid-term losses, Biden’s political operation began a two-pronged strategy: working to keep the president’s legislative priorities popular, while also seeking to fortify key party committees, such as the Democratic National Committee, earlier in the political calendar. Biden has already transferred money from his pooled fundraising committee to the DNC and the committee announced Thursday that it will spend at least $ 5 million in Virginia ahead of the 2021 races.
Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s 2020 campaign manager and his deputy White House chief of staff, said Biden has been a party-building supporter throughout his decades in public life and told his main collaborators that he wanted to do “whatever he can” to help the party while he is in the White House.
“He made it clear that his priorities are to continue doing what he always did, what he did in 18, what he did in 16, that is to say to travel the country and help wherever possible, ”said O’Malley Dillon. “He wants to make sure that as party leader, that the DNC, the states parties have the resources they need. “
McAuliffe has made it clear throughout the campaign that he intends to run alongside Biden – both physically and rhetorically. In his speech earlier this summer, accepting his party’s nomination, he praised Biden’s “great leadership” and said his election underscored the “significant strides” the country had made in its post-Trump recovery. . In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, McAuliffe’s campaign featured the former governor as the Biden candidate in the race.
While it may not be unique for a Democrat to announce another Democrat, it hasn’t always been the case in Virginia’s gubernatorial election. Although McAuliffe ran alongside then-President Barack Obama during his successful candidacy in 2013, there were tensions, especially after the dramatic failure to roll out the Obamacare Healthcare.gov website within weeks. only before the elections.
Obama finally rallied around McAuliffe – “We can’t let people stay at home when so much is at stake,” the then president said at the event.
The fragile nature of Obama’s support for McAuliffe in 2013 shows how quickly sentiment can change in an out-of-year election like Virginia’s, and Biden’s legislative priorities – after successfully enacting the US bailout $ 1.9 billion – have stalled in a frozen Congress.
O’Malley Dillon said Biden knew “that the most important thing he can do for the mid-term is to continue to be of service to the American people and the people who trusted him when he took office. “.
For years, Virginia’s off-year elections have been seen as a key indicator of how political winds might turn after a presidential election. Since the 1970s, the winner of the election for governor of Virginia has always been from the opposition party in the White House. That changed in 2013, when McAuliffe won his first term just a year after Barack Obama won his second term in the White House.
Yet Virginia’s once balanced role as a political indicator has shifted to the left in recent years, with Republicans losing every statewide election in more than a decade. Every Democratic presidential candidate has won Virginia since 2008, including President Joe Biden in 2020. The Commonwealth is currently represented by two Democratic senators, seven of its 11 House representatives are Democrats, and four of the last five Commonwealth governors have been Democrats. .
That – along with Biden’s popularity in the state – has led some Democrats to believe running in Virginia should not be competitive. But McAuliffe and his top advisers believe Democrats are underestimating how close the race could be, especially because Youngkin is a multimillionaire who can self-fund much of his campaign.
McAuliffe, in an interview with CNN earlier this year, argued that one of the reasons he thinks it will be close is that it will be the first election in recent years without Trump on the ballot or in office. , raising questions about Democratic energy.
“We’ve had Donald Trump here for four years. It led to Democratic participation, ”McAuliffe said. “Donald Trump is no longer president. … It will be very close. It’s going to be tight. … You bet it’s gonna be close. ”
Biden’s event on Friday – a rally in the voter-rich suburb of Northern Virginia – was an attempt to address those concerns.
Major suburbs across the country, including those in Northern Virginia, rejected Trump in 2020, with skinny Republican voters put off by his temper and support for Biden. To win in 2021, McAuliffe will need to maintain that momentum, while Youngkin will need to turn the tide for Republicans in these wealthy suburbs.
Republicans have argued that Biden coming to Virginia months before the election – far earlier than former presidents – makes McAuliffe desperate.
“McAuliffe needs to look at the gloomy poll numbers if he needs the president to campaign nearly 4 months after election day,” said Maddie Anderson, spokesperson for the Republican Governors Association. “With spikes in violent crime and skyrocketing inflation at the heart of voters’ concerns this year – the nefarious policies and rhetoric supported by Biden and McAuliffe will be the center of attention during this visit. ”
This story has been updated with remarks from the Friday night event.
CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Donald Judd contributed to this report.