President Joe Biden made the quick trip from D.C. to Virginia on Tuesday evening to support Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s bid for governor, working to keep the state’s leadership within the party once incumbent Ralph Northam is out of office.
“What a beautiful evening here in Arlington, Virginia to be here with the 46th President of the United States of America,” McAuliffe said during the outdoor event, thanking Biden for making the journey across the Potomac River.
McAuliffe previously served as Virginia’s 72nd governor from 2014 through 2018. Should he win against Republican Glenn Youngkin in November’s election, McAuliffe would be only the second person in modern history to hold the state office twice: The first was Mills Godwin, who was governor from 1966 to 1970 as a member of the Democratic party and again from 1974 to 1978 as a Republican.
Unlike many other states, governors in Virginia cannot serve two consecutive terms, but can run for reelection in any race after their successor’s time in office.
“Virginia, we have only one week left in this campaign. And I gotta be honest with you, there could be nothing more at stake,” McAuliffe said of his bid for reelection, later adding: “I know we can do it, because we did it before.”
During his address, Biden painted McAuliffe as a key ally to his economic and social agendas, saying the former governor has already proven his track record in areas like veterans affairs, childhood development and social services.
“Here are a few things to remember: First, you don't have to wonder what kind of Terry will be, because you know what a great governor he was,” Biden said. “And it wasn’t just because of what he promised, it’s what he delivered.”
McAuliffe slammed his opponent's education policies, including a recent controversy centering around the Toni Morrison book "Beloved."
"Glenn Youngkin is promoting banning books by one of America’s most prominent black authors," McAuliffe said. "Just the fact that he is even discussing this brings shame here in the Commonwealth of Virginia."
"This is his closing message," McAuliffe said, calling Morrison "one of America's most famous authors, the winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the winner of the Nobel Prize."
McAuliffe called the election a choice between "a path that promotes conspiracies, hate and division or a path focused on lifting up every single Virginian."
"The other day, he denied that humans contribute to climate change," McAuliffe said. "I will work with anyone at any time, including reasonable Republicans. But make no mistake: Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican, and it's not just banning books and election conspiracy theories."
McAuliffe slammed Youngkin for bringing "Donald Trump's anti-science agenda to Virginia," notably opposition to mask mandates and vaccine requirements, and said that if his Republican opponent wins, "women will die from unsafe illegal abortions here in Virginia."
Biden also warned of the threat to abortion rights if Youngkin wins: "A woman’s right to choose is very much at risk because of what’s happening in Texas. If you want to protect your right to choose in Virginia, you need a governor actually committed to protecting that right."
Virginia’s race is seen by some as a bellwether ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs.
“There's a fundamental difference between Democrats and Terry McAuliffe, and what's going on in today's Republican Party and with Terry’s opponent,” President Biden said Tuesday. “Today’s Republican Party stands for nothing, but just keep cutting taxes for the wealthy and the most powerful corporations.”
"I ran against Donald Trump, and Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump," Biden said, adding that Youngkin "doesn’t like to talk about it very much now, but to win the Republican nomination, he embraced Donald Trump."
It was a message also shared by first lady Dr. Jill Biden during her own visit to the state earlier this month, saying the governors’ races in Virginia and New Jersey will “set a course for a year from now.”
Democrats, eager to boost turnout for the off-year elections, dispatched the first lady to rally support in the Nov. 2 governors’ races. It marked her first return to the campaign trail since stumping for her husband in last year’s presidential campaign, and it underscored the political stakes for the White House.
“We can’t get complacent. We have to get to work,” the first lady said at the time.
In Virginia especially, which President Joe Biden won by a comfortable 10 percentage points last year, a defeat in the governor’s race could spell trouble for Democrats in the 2022 midterms, when control of Congress is at risk of flipping to Republicans. The president’s approval ratings have fallen to some of the lowest levels of his White House tenure amid congressional fights over infrastructure and voting rights.
So far, Virginia’s gubernatorial race is proving to be more difficult than Democrats would like.
During the first three weeks of October, Youngkin outraised McAuliffe, while McAuliffe outspent Youngkin, according to reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in state politics.
And new polling from Monmouth University, which has the race tied, suggested that Youngkin may be gaining some support among those deciding between the two candidates in the final months of the campaign, including in the Northern Virginia suburbs.
Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, also cited a shift in voters’ top issues away from the pandemic, which tends to favor Democrats, and toward the economy and education, where the politics are murkier.
Biden's Tuesday evening address marked the urgency Democrats feel in Virginia's race, telling supporters to vote for down-ballot Democrats for the sake of their families and country.
"Virginia, you can't take anything for granted," the president concluded his speech. "Show up for democracy, for Virginia, for the United States of America."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.