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Democratic DC 'chitty-chat' ties McAuliffe's hands in Virginia governor race

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Democratic infighting and gridlock in Congress over infrastructure and sweeping social programs could be partly to blame for the current state of Virginia's gubernatorial race, which is a toss-up despite President Joe Biden winning the state by 10 points in 2020.

Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial election is often viewed as one of the first barometers of the mood of the electorate after a presidential election and a preview for which party might have an edge in the midterm elections.

The most recent gubernatorial poll from the Trafalgar Group finds former Gov. Terry McAuliffe at 48% among likely voters, in a dead heat with Republican rival Genn Youngkin, a first-time candidate and former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group private equity firm. That is significant in a Democratic-trending state where Republicans have not won a statewide race since 2009.

McAuliffe is blunt about what could be dragging his numbers down.

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“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," McAuliffe said during a recent virtual rally with Virginia Democrats.

McAuliffe has been clear his frustration is not that Biden is doing the wrong thing but that Democrats are not doing enough. Instead of trying to distance himself from national Democrats, McAuliffe argues that continued Democratic warring in Congress deprives the party of much-needed wins that McAuliffe can use to excite voters, scoffing at “their little chitty-chat up there” in Washington.

“Biden’s dip in popularity has made this trickier for McAuliffe, and McAuliffe likely believes that Democrats getting something done before the election helps Biden, which by extension helps him,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

In a gubernatorial debate last month, McAuliffe strayed from progressive Democrats in the House and said he thought $3.5 trillion was “too high” a price tag for Democrats’ proposed sweeping social programs spending reconciliation bill, the Build Back Better Act.

He has also pushed for Democrats to pass a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill as soon as possible, siding with Democratic centrists. Left-wing members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus pledge to vote against the bill until the budget reconciliation spending bill gets a vote in the Senate, blocking it from passage.

“Why haven’t we passed the infrastructure bill? It passed the U.S. Senate with 69 votes two months ago,” McAuliffe said earlier this month, saying voters want the kind of provisions in the bill. “Get it done this week. Do your job.”

Jared Leopold, a Democratic strategist with extensive experience in Virginia campaigns, said that while it is helpful “to be on the team that has the winning streak,” the impact of congressional debates on the Virginia race will not make or break McAuliffe’s campaign.

“Would you like an infrastructure and Build Back Better package? Sure,” Leopold said. “I don't think Terry McAuliffe is gonna win or lose this based on congressional vote schedule.”

Coronavirus cases, he said, are a much more important influence on how voters feel about Democrats in power. Case numbers have been dropping over the last few weeks.

“You're starting to see Joe Biden's numbers stabilize across the country as COVID cases are dropping,” Leopold said.

With Democrats in the Senate still negotiating the size and scope of the reconciliation bill, it is unlikely it will get across the finish line in the next two weeks before the Nov. 2 election.

Democrats who support holding out on the infrastructure bill say that they want to ensure that they get as many sweeping social program provisions as possible in their go-it-alone reconciliation bill. Progressives say this is their best, and perhaps only, chance to deliver on Biden’s Build Back Better agenda with slim majorities in the House and Senate — and argue that it will help Democrats in 2022 and 2024 campaigns.

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McAuliffe, though, could turn that argument around: If he loses in Virginia, it could have ripple effects in Congress and stunt momentum on passing either bill, fueling arguments that voters are rejecting Biden’s agenda.

“McAuliffe was likely hurt in his 2013 race, or at least believed he was hurt, by the poor logistical rollout of the Affordable Care Act signup website in the weeks prior to that election,” said Kondik, the University of Virginia election analyst. “He ended up doing worse than the bulk of polls suggested and only won by 2.5 points. That may be coloring campaign perceptions of what dysfunction in Washington means for this November.”

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Tags: News, Terry McAuliffe, Congress, Virginia, Joe Biden, Glenn Youngkin, Campaigns

Original Author: Emily Brooks

Original Location: Democratic DC 'chitty-chat' ties McAuliffe's hands in Virginia governor race

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