Vice President Kamala Harris this week will become the latest high profile Democrat to campaign with former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who holds a razor-thin lead over Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin with 15 days to go until Election Day.
McAuliffe’s campaign announced on Monday that the vice president will team up with Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee on Thursday evening in Prince William County “to mobilize Virginians during early voting.”
Prince William County, located in in northern Virginia and part of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, is the commonwealth’s second most populous county and a growing and increasingly diverse part of the state.
An average of the latest polls in the race indicate that McAuliffe – who’s running for his old job – holds a slight, single-digit edge over Youngkin in Virginia, where Republicans haven’t won a statewide contest in a dozen years. The Cook Report, a top nonpartisan political handicapper, recently shifted its ranking of the race from “lean Democratic” to “toss up.”
The latest surveys also indicate that Republican voters are more motivated than their Democratic counterparts. And McAuliffe’s putting on a full court press to get Democrats to cast ballots in the current early voting period, or to go to the polls on Election Day.
First Lady Jill Biden campaigned with McAuliffe on Friday and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House Democratic leader who in 2018 made history as the first Black female gubernatorial nominee of a major political party, teamed up with him for two stops on Sunday.
Former President Obama will campaign with McAuliffe this upcoming Saturday, Oct. 23. And President Biden’s expected to join McAuliffe as well. Asked last week if Biden would join him on the campaign trail, the former governor said “he’ll be coming back. You bet he will.”
Harris held a fundraiser for McAuliffe last month. And the nation’s first female and first Black vice president stars in a video that’s been distributed to some 300 Black churches in Virginia that was played on Sunday or in the next two Sundays ahead of the Nov. 2 election.
“I believe that my friend Terry McAuliffe is the leader Virginia needs at this moment,” Harris said in the video. “Terry McAuliffe has a long track record of getting things done for the people of Virginia.”
The video is part the McAuliffe campaign’s use of “Souls to the polls” events – block party style events featuring campaign surrogates to drive parishioners to post-church polling places nearby.
Black Virginians make up roughly 20% of the state’s population, and they are a key part of the Democratic base that McAuliffe needs to energize.
But the use of the Harris video is the latest episode – by both the left and the right – to raise concerns about churches getting involved in politics while still taking advantage of their income tax exemptions.
Biden last teamed up with McAuliffe on the campaign trail in late July in the voter-rich and heavily Democratic Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
That was before McAuliffe’s lead over Youngkin, a first-time candidate and former CEO of a large private equity firm, started shrinking amid the sinking of Biden’s approval ratings. The drop in the president’s numbers were fueled by criticism of his handling of the turbulent U.S. exit from Afghanistan, the surge in COVID-19 cases this summer mainly among unvaccinated people due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, and the latest surge of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. along the southern border with Mexico.
The president’s approval ratings in Virginia have also deteriorated in a state Biden won by 10 points in last November’s presidential election.
McAuliffe, in a recent video conference clip that Republicans spotlighted, acknowledged that “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.”
Adding to Biden’s polling woes is the inability to date by the White House and congressional Democrats – due to an intra-party battle between progressives and moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill – to agree on the party’s massive social spending, human infrastructure and climate change package, as well as a bipartisan infrastructure bill. That has forced McAuliffe to criticize his own party. The odds that the Democrats will come to agreement and pass both packages before Election Day in Virginia are diminishing.
The former governor has repeatedly emphasized – on the debate stage and in interviews – that it’s time for lawmakers in Washington “to stop their little chitty-chat up there, and it’s time for them to pass it.”
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold gubernatorial elections in the year after the presidency’s decided, guaranteeing they always grab outsized attention.
There’s a long-running trend of voters in the commonwealth defeating the gubernatorial nominee of the party that controls the White House. McAuliffe broke with that tradition in 2013 with his election as governor in the year after Obama was reelected. McAuliffe was unable to run for reelection in 2017 because Virginia governors are barred from serving two consecutive terms.
The close contest in Virginia – a one-time key battleground but still competitive state which is seen as a key bellwether ahead of the 2022 midterm elections – has national Democrats on edge as they defend their razor-thin majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in next year’s contests.