OCTOBER 27, 2021
President Joe Biden took the stage on Tuesday night for his all-in effort stumping for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, exactly one week from the election in which the fate of the tight governor’s race will be sealed.
Biden’s speech in Arlington, Va., kicked off as a crowd of about 2,500 chanted, “We love Joe,” before being interrupted by protesters. “It’s not a Trump rally — we let them holler,” Biden said in his first mention of the former president, who was known for having dissenters ejected from his events.
In the 15-minute speech, Biden touted the former Virginia governor’s record on the economy, education, health care and gun safety, casting McAuliffe as a leader who will put the president’s agenda into action in the state.
“You don’t have to wonder what kind of governor Terry will be because you know what a great governor he was,” Biden said. “It wasn’t just because of what he promised. It’s what he delivered.”
Biden’s speech then turned into a wide-ranging rebuke of the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, and, ultimately, a rebuke of Donald Trump.
“But how well do you know Terry’s opponent?” Biden said. “Remember this: I ran against Donald Trump. And Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump.”
Biden dug in, telling the crowd that Youngkin wouldn’t “allow” Trump to campaign for him.
“What’s he hiding? Is he embarrassed?” the president said, amplifying his voice.
Biden’s rant hit Trump on everything from his claims of election fraud, the pandemic and the Jan. 6 insurrection, to the former president’s recent attacks on former Secretary of State Colin Powell following his death. He lambasted Youngkin, who has recently tried to distance himself from the former president, for standing by Trump.
One of Biden’s sharpest attacks against Youngkin came toward the end of his speech, when he said extremism could come in many forms. The president said it could arrive in a mob-driven assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Then again, Biden added of Youngkin, “it can come in a smile and a fleece vest.”
Biden said next to nothing about the negotiations on his signature social welfare and infrastructure legislation happening just across the Potomac, instead diving into issues that have defined the governor’s race in the closing days. Before he took the stage, McAuliffe aides passed out books by the late Toni Morrison, after Youngkin in an ad this week featured a woman who had tried to have Morrison’s novel “Beloved” — which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 — banned in public schools. Later, Biden noted that his wife, first lady Jill Biden, had traveled to Princeton University to interview the author, dismissing Youngkin as a know-nothing.
McAuliffe didn’t shy away from amplifying this message when he addressed the crowd ahead of Biden.
“Glenn Youngkin is promoting banning books by one of America’s most prominent Black authors,” McAuliffe said, before adding that it “bothers” him that Youngkin uses education to divide the state.
Youngkin’s zeroing in on education could in part explain the tightening race, the second-most-important topic to Virginians as they decide whom to vote for on Nov. 2, following jobs and the economy. Just last week, a poll from Monmouth University showed the candidates deadlocked, with both at 46 percent support among registered voters.
The president’s quick stop in Arlington also comes as he faces alarming poll numbers in Virginia and nationwide, with a recent Monmouth poll putting him at a 43 percent job approval rating. (He still had high support among Democrats, with 84 percent approval and plus-10 favorability in Northern Virginia.)
Virginia isn’t a loss Democrats want to explain. With the face-off between McAuliffe and Youngkin just days away, the president and the party are leaning into these early elections as a referendum on the presidency and a glimpse into challenging congressional races in 2022.
Over the weekend, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, and other party officials touted Democratic investments in Virginia, as well as visits from Biden, the first lady and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“We’re all in,” Harrison said at a Richmond rally for McAuliffe over the weekend. “Virginia is very important; we want to make sure that we turn the vote out.”
Biden’s out-front approach is a break from Barack Obama, whose team distanced the former president from the Democratic gubernatorial campaigns in 2009 and 2013. Biden’s move could backfire if Youngkin succeeds, giving Republicans more fuel to criticize the White House in upcoming elections.
Virginia’s off-year elections don’t always predict the future. McAuliffe, for example, won in 2013, defying the state’s tendency of electing a governor from the party that isn’t in the White House. Still, Biden projected a sense of urgency on Tuesday night as he talked about the importance of the gubernatorial election for Virginia, and the rest of the country.
“Virginia, show up,” the president said. “Show up like you did for Barack and me. Show up like you did for me and Kamala. Show up for a proven leader like Terry McAuliffe. Show up for democracy. For Virginia. For the United States of America.”