Biden tries to avoid becoming Terry McAuliffe's albatross in highly watched Virginia governor's race

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe abandoned his 2020 presidential ambitions when then-candidate Joe Biden, a longtime friend and fellow centrist, solidified his position as the Democratic nomination front-runner.

Now Biden may need to swallow his pride and stand aside so the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clinton family ally can become Virginia's second nonconsecutive two-term governor.


Biden trounced former President Donald Trump in Virginia less than a year ago by 10 percentage points, so McAuliffe polling within the margin of error against Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has Democrats skittish about the Nov. 2 race and the 2022 midterm elections.

The White House has denied the Virginia campaign is a referendum on Biden and his agenda, despite McAuliffe and Youngkin making the president a central campaign issue. But their contest is considered to be a more accurate electorate bellwether compared to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's recall challenge in blue California against candidates such as Trump-like conservative radio commentator Larry Elder.

McAuliffe clung to Biden during the summer, but he has distanced himself in recent weeks as the president's popularity nosedived. Biden's average approval rating — which hovers around 44%, according to RealClearPolitics — has been dented by the COVID-19 delta variant surge, the deadly Afghanistan troop withdrawal, and his current struggle to keep his election pledge of introducing sweeping liberal reforms.

McAuliffe told supporters last week during what he thought was a private virtual gathering that Biden was "unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we got to plow through." Biden was then omitted from a list of campaign events McAuliffe announced this week that first lady Jill Biden, former President Barack Obama, and likely 2022 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams will be headlining.

Later that day, McAuliffe promised reporters Biden would make another appearance after stumping for him in July.

"He'll be coming back. You bet he will," McAuliffe said.

For Republican Governors Association spokeswoman Maddie Anderson, McAuliffe's off-the-cuff remark reflected his own internal and public polling.

"I'm sure the White House was none too pleased to hear their endorsed candidate admit the president was dragging him down, so saying under pressure that Biden would be coming back to campaign was McAuliffe's way to compensate for that," she said. "Whether or not Biden actually goes back to Virginia remains questionable. Biden is deeply unpopular, and it certainly would not help McAuliffe."

McAuliffe has also clashed with Biden over legislative strategy. McAuliffe had hoped liberal Democrats would pass the Senate-approved $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal independently from a floated $2 trillion social welfare and climate spending package. Some House Democrats have withheld their votes as leverage after initially advocating for a $3.5 trillion proposal.

McAuliffe also complained that the $3.5 trillion price tag was too expensive. He has implored Senate Democrats to scrap the filibuster as well.

Biden's federal priorities, including racial equity, have simultaneously energized Virginia Republicans as the state grapples with so-called "critical race theory" being implemented in its schools. McAuliffe assisted Republicans in their get-out-the-vote endeavor by insisting last month during a debate that he did not "think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."

In response to a comment request, a Democratic strategist pointed the Washington Examiner to a Fox News poll published this week that found 87% of Virginia Democrats supported Biden, while Trump was at 80% with Republicans.

"It's taken as gospel that Trump is a god to Republican voters and Biden is too vanilla to excite Democrats," Josh Schwerin, another Democratic operative, tweeted about the poll. "Maybe its (sic) time to rethink some of that conventional wisdom?"

Virginia Democrats have tried to replicate Newsom's success by drawing parallels between Youngkin and Trump.

"My opponent Glenn Youngkin said he is running to be Virginia's governor because of Donald Trump," McAuliffe wrote in a fundraising email Wednesday. "Despite everything Donald Trump has done to our democracy, his support for the Jan. 6 insurrection, and Trump's 'big lie,' Youngkin endorsed another four years of Trump as president."

He added, "And, with Roe v. Wade hanging on by a thread, Glenn Youngkin could bring a Texas-style abortion ban to Virginia."

But Youngkin, a businessman formerly of private equity firm the Carlyle Group, has been able to straddle the pro- and anti-Trump components of the Republican Party.

Youngkin earned Trump's endorsement after securing the Republican nomination, even though he conceded Biden was the legitimate president. However, he failed to get the endorsement of the National Rifle Association because he refused to complete a survey affirming his platform.

He has also criticized Texas's heartbeat abortion law in favor of pain threshold legislation, telling an activist he would downplay the matter during the general election so he would not alienate independent voters.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was adamant Biden was also frustrated with his slow progress in Congress but understood it was part of the process.


"Certainly, the president would like to move forward," she told reporters Wednesday. "He's pressing members to move forward."

Original Location: Biden tries to avoid becoming Terry McAuliffe's albatross in highly watched Virginia governor's race


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