WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (Reuters) – Former US President Barack Obama on Saturday joined a slate of leading Democrats campaigning for Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s candidate for governor in a race seen as a barometer of the political direction of the country after Joe Biden, a Democrat, won the presidency over Republican Donald Trump a year ago.
Opinion polls show McAuliffe, who served as governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018, and Republican Glenn Youngkin are nearly tied in the November 2 election countdown.
A poll this week by Monmouth University showed Youngkin, 54, had narrowed McAuliffe’s 5-point lead since September, gaining ground with independent and female voters.
Youngkin’s strength in the polls in the first weeks of early voting worried Democrats, who anticipated a comfortable lead in a state that has tended to blue in recent years. Democrats toppled the Virginia legislature in 2019 and Trump lost the state by 10 percentage points in November 2020, double his margin of defeat in 2016.
Obama, who served as president from 2008 to 2016, will speak on Saturday afternoon at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, in a bid to reinforce McAuliffe, 64, in the final leg of the race. Biden is due to campaign with McAuliffe next week.
In a television commercial that aired Wednesday, Obama backed McAuliffe’s positions on climate change, abortion rights and voting rights.
“I saw Terry defend the values that are close to our hearts; protect the right to vote of every citizen, fight climate change and defend a woman’s right to choose, ”Obama said of the former governor.
Current governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, cannot run for re-election because the state prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms. McAuliffe can run because he left office in 2018.
Both gubernatorial candidates looked at highly controversial cultural issues to engage voters in off-year elections, including abortion rights and how schools approach issues of race and racism with students.
McAuliffe sought to portray Youngkin as a far-right extremist and align him with Trump, who backed the Republican candidate.
In turn, Youngkin suggested that McAuliffe try to advance a far-left agenda. A former private equity executive, Youngkin focused in part on education – particularly the right of parents to have a say in their children’s schooling – which has proven popular with women in the suburbs, a key demographic group.
Youngkin crossed the line between welcoming Trump’s approval favorably and distancing himself from the former president’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Read more
Last week, Youngkin disassociated himself from a rally organized in support of him, which was headlined by longtime Trump aide Steve Bannon and Trump himself, who spoke over the phone. At the event, attendees pledged their allegiance to a flag which event leaders said was present on Jan.6, when Trump supporters led an assault on the United States Capitol.
Youngkin released a statement saying it was “weird and wrong” to pledge allegiance to a Flag with Connections on January 6.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Howard Goller
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