RICHMOND, VA (AP) – Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin campaigned in many of the same highly competitive Virginia neighborhoods on Monday, trying to garner last-minute support in the governor’s race that caught the nation’s attention as the first major player. referendum on the presidency of Joe Biden.
McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, is struggling to avert disaster after polls shifted towards Yangkin in recent weeks. Republicans are optimistic about their chances in the Commonwealth, where they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009 and where Biden won with a comfortable 10 points just last year.
Elsewhere, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is seeking the re-election of former Republican State Assemblyman Jack Chiattarelli. Mayors’ offices in many of the country’s largest cities are open to the public. And the Minneapolis vote could change police work in this community, where the assassination of George Floyd last year sparked widespread demonstrations for racial justice across the country.
But what’s happening in Virginia – a former Republican territory that has turned bluer in recent years – has promised repercussions that could shake both sides.
McAuliffe’s victory could calm Democrats heading for next year’s midterm elections when control of Congress is at stake. However, Yangkin’s disappointment would allow Republicans to say they have taken advantage of the political momentum and are not planning to give it up in the midterm elections.
Biden’s approval ratings have dropped in recent weeks. And Congress, controlled by Democrats, has yet to pass a massive public works bill or massive spending package that would dramatically increase government support for social safety nets.
Both McAuliffe and Youngkin campaigned on Monday in greater Richmond, a state capital whose fast-growing suburbs could turn the tide. They also planned stops at Virginia Beach, which turned blue for the first time since 1964 with Biden’s backing last year, and Blue Ridge Mountain in Roanoke.
Youngkin was also on his way to a late-night rally in Loudoun County, a suburb of Washington DC, which has become the epicenter of parental activist groups who oppose school programs that include instructions on institutional racism as anti-American. The Republican has pledged that parents have a greater say in what they teach their children, a centerpiece of his campaign – perhaps foreshadowing similar arguments that GOP candidates will use across the country in races next year.
McAuliffe has his own swing in northern Virginia on Monday night.
The largely overlapping campaign stops followed with each side working to get their most ardent supporters rekindled over the weekend. Youngkin spent Sunday at the far southwestern tip of the state, a Republican stronghold.
McAuliffe, who preceded Democrat Ralph Northam as governor in the only state to prevent its leader from running for multiple consecutive terms, hit the Richmond and northern Virginia suburbs that played a key role in Biden’s victory a year ago.
In the backyard of a home in the affluent Henrico County, near Richmond, McAuliffe told his supporters that “the stakes are huge.”
“I’ve done this job before. I was the most progressive in the business. I made this state open and hospitable, created many jobs, ”he said about his first governor’s post. “We don’t want to go back.”
Speaking at a rally in Abingdon, Youngkin predicted that Republicans would hold all three statewide races and regain control of the House of Delegates, where all 100 seats are on the ballot.
“This is the moment for us to declare that a lot of government control will be lost and that freedom and liberty in Virginia will prevail,” he said.
McAuliffe has attracted a number of high-profile supporters, including President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, and renowned musicians Pharrell Williams and Dave Matthews. Youngkin, meanwhile, avoided virtually all public campaign visits from prominent party allies, who usually flocked to the hot race.
This includes former President Donald Trump, who is hosting a tele rally for Yangkin on Monday. Yangkin said he would not participate.
Youngkin embraced Trump more fully during the Republican primaries, but since becoming a candidate, he has walked a fine line trying to court moderate voters.
The early vote in Virginia, which has expanded dramatically over the past two years of unified democratic control over the state government, ended this weekend. A law passed in 2020 removed the need to provide one of a number of limited excuses for absentee voting – by allowing any qualified voter to cast their vote 45 days before an election.
More than 1.1 million of the state’s approximately 5.9 million registered voters voted early. This is sharply less than the 2.8 million early votes in last year’s presidential election, but marks a sharp increase from just 195,000 early votes during the last gubernatorial cycle, before voting reforms were introduced.
McAuliffe’s campaign said it expects many Democrats to return to their pre-coronavirus voting habits this year, preferring to vote in person on election day.
Voters are not registered by party in Virginia, so the issue of party split early voting was not immediately apparent. But McAuliffe’s campaign pointed to what they considered “strong” numbers in the blueness-prone communities in northern Virginia, as the iconic momentum was on their side.
Republicans, while generally opposed to Democratic electoral reforms, also called on their supporters to vote earlier this year, which means Yangkin can do well as well.