NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump is stepping from afar back into the hotly contested Virginia governor's race with a tele-rally planned Monday for Republican Glenn Youngkin, according to a person familiar with his plans.
Trump will not be appearing with Youngkin. The call-in event will take place the day before an election in which Youngkin appears to be running neck-and-neck with Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who has tried throughout the race to tie his opponent to the former president.
Trump lost the state by 10 points in 2020. The person who discussed his plans spoke on condition of anonymity before the event was announced. Youngkin’s campaign declined to comment on the planned event.
Throughout the campaign, Youngkin has played a delicate dance, trying to win over Trump’s loyal base, which he needs to win the election, while at the same time avoiding more extreme positions that might turn off more moderate voters, particularly those in suburban Washington and Richmond. Such moderates turned against Trump and helped deliver President Joe Biden’s victory.
The last time time Trump waded into the race — calling into a rally organized by his conservative allies — McAuliffe’s campaign quickly made ads featuring Trump’s praise of the Republican, even though Youngkin hadn’t attended the event.
On Wednesday night, Trump issued a cryptic statement suggesting he might make a last-minute, first appearance in Virginia before the election, though officials in the state said nothing was planned.
“Thank you, Arlington, see you soon!” he wrote after supporters briefly interrupted a Biden rally for McAuliffe. Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich later said Trump looked “forward to being back in Virginia! Details will be released when appropriate," but no event was announced.
Biden at that rally had goaded Trump over his absence from the state.
“Think about it: He won't allow Donald Trump to campaign for him in this state," Biden said of Youngkin. "Is there a problem with Trump being here? Is he embarrassed?”
Youngkin has largely campaigned without big Republican names while McAuliffe has appeared with the biggest names in Democratic politics, like Biden and former President Barack Obama, as well as celebrities such as musician Dave Matthews.
Democrats immediately criticized Youngkin for Trump's involvement.
Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, called on Youngkin to tell voters immediately whether he plans to take part in the event, which she said shows the two “can’t stay away from each other.”
“Donald Trump is on the ballot, make no mistake about it,” she said. “His name may not be on the ballot, but he is on the ballot.”
McAuliffe also tweeted about the news, saying, “Virginians, let’s come together to REJECT Trump and send a powerful message to the nation: we are not going back.”
Bloomberg News was first to report that the event had been confirmed. __ Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin contributed to this report from Richmond, Virginia.