Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration

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Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - Carlos Bernate /Bloomberg
Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - Carlos Bernate /Bloomberg

Barack Obama is hitting the campaign trail in Virginia this week to boost support for the Democrats in a closely fought governor’s election that is being seen as a key bellwether for the ailing Biden administration ahead of midterm elections next year.

The former president is the latest big name to be drafted in to shore up the vote for former governor Terry McAuliffe ahead of a vote in two weeks’ time that will be the first major electoral test for the US president amid his sinking approval ratings.

Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI /AFP
Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI /AFP

Mr Obama is scheduled to join a rally this weekend in an effort to boost the black turnout. Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate who has since risen to national prominence, is also scheduled to join the campaign.

The high-profile additions follow a visit last Friday by First Lady Jill Biden, who warned Democrats against complacency in Virginia, a purple state that Mr Biden carried by 10 points.

"Virginia needs someone who will work towards progress, not refight the battles of our past," the First Lady told a crowd at a fairground in a Richmond suburb on Friday night, urging them to do their part to secure a Democratic win.

Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - Steve Helber /AP
Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - Steve Helber /AP

With just over two weeks before election day, Mr McAuliffe, a popular former Virginia governor now running to regain the post, has a razor thin lead against Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin.

One poll last week had the candidates tied and another gave Mr McAuliffe a five-point lead.

Mr McAuliffe, 64, has framed the race as a choice between his own moderate platform and a return to former president Donald Trump's brand of "conspiracy theory" politics.

"Glenn Youngkin has spent this entire campaign trying to be a Donald Trump wannabe," he told the crowd in Richmond, saying: "we cannot risk a return to division".

By contrast Mr Youngkin, 54, has put some distance between himself and Mr Trump, instead attempting to make the race a referendum on America's ongoing "culture wars" to energise the Republican base.

Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - Steve Helber /AP
Democrat in key Virginia governor race hanging on by a thread in further blow for ailing Biden administration - Steve Helber /AP

The tight polling numbers in the Virginia race echo Mr Biden's decline in national polling, amid rising inflation and a stalled domestic agenda, and has rattled the Democratic Party.

According to Rasmussen Reports, 56 per cent of voters disapprove of his record and 43 per cent approve. A Reuters/Ipsos poll gives him a more modest two per cent disapproval rating.

A defeat in Virginia could spell disaster for the Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections when the balance of power in Congress - and the fate of the remainder of Mr Biden's first term and his progressive agenda - will be decided.

Acknowledging the stakes, Mr Biden told reporters on Friday the race was understandably being read as a "bellwether of what may happen" next year.

Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told the Telegraph a loss for Mr McAuliffe would be "disastrous for Democratic prospects in 2022."

"If Virginia is going to go Republican it would pretty much close the books on Democrats maintaining control of Congress," he said.

Mr McAuliffe, 64, has partially blamed his narrow lead on Mr Biden's low popularity and a spending row between Democrats in Congress that has brought their legislative agenda to a standstill.

"We're tired of the chitty chat up in Washington. Get in a room and get this figured out," he said recently.

Stephen Rast, a 26-year-old civil engineer who had come to hear the First Lady and Mr McAuliffe, said the log jam in Congress was "severely hurting" the Democrats' chances.

"They can't get anything done," he said, "I think a lot of people are really upset about that."

Peronica Carter, a middle aged teacher and longtime Democratic voter, disagreed. "Given the situation that he walked into, I think he's doing the best he can," she said, citing the bitter political climate and the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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