“The Democrats will try to bring Trump up,” said former Republican governor and Senator George Allen. “But I don’t think that’s going to be the topic of this campaign.”
These are the battle lines for the first nationwide competitive election of Joe Biden’s presidency: Democrats seek to nationalize the race, while Trump still inserts himself into the country’s political scene, while Republicans seek to compete on state and local issues realign.
But McAuliffe’s comeback offer is also based on voters’ positive sentiments about his tenure – he extolled his accomplishments along with those of his Democratic successor in his victory speech on Tuesday – along with a bet that Biden’s early popularity will propel Democrats here for a year after wearing Virginia by 10 points.
Meanwhile, Trump’s White House tenure was a disaster for the Virginia GOP. Ralph Northam, the outgoing governor, cruised from Republican Ed Gillespie in the 2017 gubernatorial contest that was part of four years of Democratic victories on the ballot.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam gestures during a briefing at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. | Steve Helber / AP Photo
Conservatives argue that this year will be different: with Trump out of the vote and Republicans in power in both Richmond and Washington, they say voters are ready for change. And the GOP is eager to prove that the Trump-era resistance in the nation’s suburbs – which has hurt the party’s prospects in states with Virginia’s demographic profile – is reversible. Internal polls from the Youngkin campaign, conducted last week before the Democratic primary and first shared with POLITICO, left him behind McAuliffe in a head-to-head comparison between 48 and 46 percent within the poll’s margin of error.
McAuliffe, however, has not shied away from his previous tenure and Northam’s four-year tenure. First ever digital display for the general election at McAuliffe camp highlights his financial record as he continues to tease Trump with Youngkin.
“I think it is necessary to highlight that Governor McAuliffe and Governor Northam have produced one of the most progressive terms in the Virginia government over the past eight years,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a co-chair McAuliffe’s campaign said. “Don’t be surprised that we emphasize that this election is about the future.”
The campaign is also betting that Biden’s popularity in the state will lift all democratic boats.
“Having President Biden in the White House is a win,” Stoney continued. “President Biden was the one who got the ship upright, got guns, and worked on our recovery, invested in our infrastructure … and I think that’s a perfect record to keep going in November.”
McAuliffe told CNN Tuesday night that he spoke to Biden shortly after being named winner and that the president said he was “anything in” to support his campaign.
McAuliffe advisors argue that his overwhelming primary victory – he won 62 percent of the vote in a five-way race – shows that he can replicate the same coalition of voters that Biden drove last year while trying to get Trump to stand up to bring more into the race. McAuliffe said in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday that he doesn’t think Trump “has the guts” to come into the state and promote Youngkin.
After the Democrats were annoyed about the turnout on the day before the election, the Democrats breathed a sigh of relief when all the ballot papers were counted. As of late Tuesday, 488,000 votes in the governor’s primary were tallied – less than the 2017 primary, but still nearly 90 percent of the turnout in a charged duel between Northam and the more progressive former MP Tom Perriello.
But there are still concerns among some on the left that November political exhaustion could dampen voter turnout, making the race a more difficult win for McAuliffe.
“Virginia is a deep blue state when Donald Trump is president,” said Ben Tribbett, a Virginia-based Democratic strategist. “I’m not sure we’re anything but a purple state if it isn’t.”
Because of this uncertainty, Virginians from across the political spectrum expect the race to attract a historic amount of money, both because of the individual candidates and the fact that it will be the most competitive nationwide election this year. McAuliffe is widely known as a great fundraiser, and Youngkin brings tremendous personal wealth to the race after already pouring $ 12 million of his own money into his campaign.
“It is definitely going to be the most expensive gubernatorial race in Virginia history,” said Rich Anderson, chairman of the state’s Republican Party, adding that he expects many outside groups to participate as well.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are gathering behind the ticket for all establishments across the spectrum. Both former state delinquent Jennifer Carroll Foy and US state senator Jennifer McClellan, who together received just over 30 percent of the vote on Tuesday, pledged to support McAuliffe’s general election offer in their post-election statements.
Democratic candidates for governor Jennifer Carroll Foy (left) and Jennifer McClellan (right). | Steve Helber / AP Photo
As McAuliffe made education and recovery from the core issues of the campaign from Covid-19, progressives are urging him to move further to the left on his health care and organized labor law platform. The Virginia state legislature has already passed a number of progressive guidelines since the Democrats flipped the statehouse in 2019, including expanding Medicaid and passing its own version of the Voting Act to improve access to voting.
However, keeping these guidelines depends on whether the Democrats keep control of Richmond. The battle for the state delegate house is expected to intensify after the chamber was flipped two years ago. An additional sticking point: the elections will be held on the map lines of the past decade after the release of the reallocation data was long delayed, which opens up the possibility that there could be parliamentary elections for three years in a row.
The accomplishments the Democrats have made in recent years hang “on Terry’s shoulders,” said Nick Rathod, a Democratic strategist from Virginia.
“He will have to remind you [progressive voters] of what is on the scales. “
Youngkin is also trying to split the Progressives from McAuliffe. One of the two ads he launched immediately after McAuliffe’s primary victory was one that detailed Carroll Foy’s criticism of the former governor during the primary.
Carroll Foy also warned that the Democrats need more than an anti-Trump message to win the state. “I think it’s fair because Trump supported Glenn Youngkin,” she said in an interview at a polling station in Northern Virginia on Tuesday before the ballot papers were tallied. “But I think leading with this narrative is a mistake. … Attack tactics alone are not enough. We need to let people know what our positive vision is for Virginia. “