Jill Biden stumps for Terry McAuliffe in county where GOP win could mean ‘game over’ for Democrats

Jill Biden stumps for Terry McAuliffe in county where GOP win could mean ‘game over’ for Democrats
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First lady Jill Biden is taking the White House's campaign pitch to the Virginia suburbs to stump for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in a competitive gubernatorial race that strategists said could foretell the party’s fortunes in a slew of races next year.

On Friday, Biden will travel to Henrico County, Virginia, the first of several visits to the Richmond area by top Democrats over the coming weeks.

For years, Henrico was a Republican stronghold. Now, it’s a blue district that is seen as mimicking Virginia statewide. The Richmond suburb is home to Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a centrist Democrat who has railed against the party’s focus on far-left policies. She won reelection narrowly last year.

Republican political strategist Shaun Kenney said the GOP has gained traction in the suburbs around major cities, such as Henrico.

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“That’s where you’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm for Youngkin right now — in the suburbs that were kind of a blue wing and then went very hard blue in 2017,” Kenney said. “They’re now coming back home.”

A former executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, Kenney said the way Henrico votes in the Nov. 2 gubernatorial race could be a bellwether both for the state and for congressional races in 2022.

“If Henrico County falls into the Republican column convincingly, game over,” Kenney said. He said the same was true for Chesterfield County, south of Richmond.

Virginia has seen this pattern before.

In 2008, the state voted for Barack Obama for president before electing Republican Bob McDonnell as governor by a comfortable margin the following year. McDonnell garnered 59% of the vote to Democrat Creigh Deeds’s 41%, the highest vote percentage of any candidate for governor since 1961 at the time.

McAuliffe has lost ground in recent weeks to Youngkin, his lead collapsing by more than half since August. Youngkin, a businessman and political neophyte, has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

The margins are slim. A new poll from the Trafalgar Group conducted between Monday and Wednesday shows Youngkin leading McAuliffe for the first time, 48.4% to 47.5%.

The former governor also faces an enthusiasm gap, according to a Wason Center poll conducted between Sept. 27 and Oct. 1. The survey shows 61% Republican likely voters said they are "very enthusiastic" about casting a ballot in the Nov. 2 race, compared to 55% of likely Democratic voters.

Democrats are attempting to narrow this advantage, bringing a slew of big names to the state to campaign for McAuliffe in the coming weeks.

After a campaign event with the first lady on Friday, McAuliffe will welcome Stacey Abrams, a Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia in 2018 who has gained national prominence, and former President Barack Obama. Biden, too, is expected to hit the campaign trail as the end of the race nears.

Abrams, who is heading to Norfolk on Sunday to lead a “Souls to the Polls” event, “will bring out the hardcore Democrats,” said David Ramadan, an adjunct professor at the Schar School at George Mason University and a resident scholar at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“Both campaigns are waging ‘base’ elections,” where larger numbers of entrenched supporters show up to vote, said Stephen Farnsworth, the director of the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies. He called this the logical approach for both campaigns, where most voters identify on one side or the other.

“There’s not that much persuasion going on,” he said.

Whether Biden, who has lost ground among voters in national and statewide polls, can provide a boost to McAuliffe isn’t clear. The former governor recently said on a call with supporters that “headwinds from Washington” were hampering him in the race.

Biden faces a logjam in Congress over his legislative agenda that lawmakers said could be hurting McAuliffe by failing to make the case that a Democratic administration can get things done.

Meanwhile, independent voters are unlikely to boost Democrats as they did in 2020, analysts said.

Independents last year gave Biden a margin of 10 percentage points, but they are split between McAuliffe and Youngkin, said Ramadan.

A former GOP member of the Virginia House, Ramadan explained that the number of independent voters engaged in the race is smaller in a presidential off-year. Meanwhile, likely voters are more partisan than the presidential electorate.

The key for either side is to stir their supporters.

“If there’s evidence of a vast American middle waiting to be motivated, it is pretty hard to find,” Farnsworth said.

Ramadan, who has endorsed McAuliffe, said the Democrat “only wins if the base comes out.”

The county to watch is Fairfax County, Kenney said.

“If Democrats win Fairfax 2-to-1, it’s gonna be a long night for Republicans,” he said.

But if Republicans win 55% of the vote in Fairfax County, “buckle up,” Kenney said. “It’s going to be a very long night for the Democrats.”

The race has drawn national attention, with Trump providing a vocal endorsement of Youngkin and calling into a rally this week to support him. Each candidate has also leveraged issues of national interest to stir support.

But Youngkin’s advances in the polls are less about the race he’s running and more to do with his Democratic opponent, Kenney said.

“Most of these are self-inflicted wounds from the Biden administration. So, Republican fortunes have effectively risen on Biden’s missteps,” Kenney said. “Nationally, this is not a state that was thought to be red anymore — the Republicans effectively conceded the battlefield.”

Last year, Biden won the state by 10 percentage points against former President Donald Trump.

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“It was a 55-45 romp,” Kenney said. “In 2017, we forfeited 15 seats in the General Assembly.”

He continued: “This was a state that Democrats believed they were going to hold for the next 20 years. Turns out they couldn’t even hold it seven months.”

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Tags: News, Biden Administration, White House, Virginia, Jill Biden, Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, Glenn Youngkin, Campaigns

Original Author: Katherine Doyle

Original Location: Jill Biden stumps for Terry McAuliffe in county where GOP win could mean ‘game over’ for Democrats

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