RICHMOND, Virginia — Former President Barack Obama on Saturday implored Virginians to vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, whom he praised as having the grit, leadership, and "track record of accomplishment" to lead the state.
The popular former president spoke to hundreds of cheering Democrats who made their way to the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to see him.
During his speech, Obama spoke about the frustration some felt about the pandemic, a lagging economy, and infighting among elected leaders in Washington, D.C., but said Virginia voters could "not afford to be tired" and needed to have their voices heard on Nov. 2.
"We can make it better when you've got the right person in the job," he said.
Obama also questioned the motives and authenticity of McAuliffe's Republican rival Glenn Youngkin, who stepped down as co-CEO from the Carlyle Group in 2020. Youngkin frequently pitches himself in his campaign ads as a laid-back, salt-of-the-earth-type candidate.
"I'm less convinced that the co-CEO of the largest private equity bank in the world spends his time washing dishes and going grocery shopping ... but OK, maybe," Obama said to laughs. "You do notice that whenever a wealthy person runs for office. They always want to show you what a regular guy they are."
Obama then slammed Youngkin for a recent incident at a rally in his honor, when the Pledge of Allegiance was performed to a flag that was flown during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. While Youngkin was not at the event, former President Donald Trump, who endorsed the Republican gubernatorial hopeful, called in and praised Youngkin as a "great gentleman."
"The good news is there's another path where we pull together," Obama said, adding that the country is "at a turning point right now."
Former President Barack Obama is seen with former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Dorothy McAuliffe, attorney general candidate Mark Herring, and lieutenant governor candidate Hala Ayala during a Saturday rally in Richmond, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Arnab Das, a medical student who was decked out in an Obama T-shirt and a McAuliffe pin, told the Washington Examiner that the governor's race is one of the most important in his lifetime because it would determine Virginia's path forward.
"We are at a crucial moment in state history," he said. "This election will have a direct effect on my life, my friends' lives, and shape our future. McAuliffe and Youngkin represent two very different futures for Virginia."
Others, though, came mostly to see Obama.
"He radiates hope," Stephanie Arnold gushed ahead of the event. "I can't believe he's here! I have said that 1,000 times today, but I still can't believe it!"
Virginia Democrats are taking a page out of California Gov. Gavin Newsom's playbook and bringing in heavy hitters such as Obama to energize a largely lethargic base ahead of a close governor's race that could turn the state from blue back to red. The former Virginia governor, who has been endorsed by incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam, and Youngkin are deadlocked, according to a new poll from Monmouth University that shows Republicans gaining ground in the last few weeks of the race.
The numbers tightened, with McAuliffe losing what was once a 5-percentage-point lead after making comments about parents' role in public education. The Democratic nominee defended his veto of a bill that would require parents to be informed about sexually explicit content in their children's assigned readings, a stance that Republicans have hammered as limiting parents' role in their children's education. The issue is particularly contentious in the commonwealth, where tensions have flared in Loudoun County over schools' transgender policies, mask mandates, and reliance on critical race theory, which holds that U.S. institutions are inherently racist.
During his campaign, McAuliffe has worked to distance himself from "unpopular" President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats and instead focus on moderate voters. He has called on Democrats to pare down their expansion of the social safety net and did not put up much of a defense when Youngkin verbally battered Biden over the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Democrat has touted liberal stances on several issues, such as abortion rights, a tactic that resonated with one voter who attended Saturday's rally.
"There is no wiggle room on the topic when it comes to Republicans," Kristen Douthat, a Virginia mother who considers herself a moderate, told the Washington Examiner of abortion access. "It's all or nothing. This isn't a black or white issue, no matter how many times they try to turn it into one."
In contrast to McAuliffe's star-studded final stretch, Youngkin has intentionally declined to rely on surrogates during his final 10-day, 50-stop bus tour across Virginia. The tour, which will feature a carefully curated slate of local figures, includes appearances at get-out-the-vote rallies, as well as stops at churches, small businesses, restaurants, and law enforcement events.
While Virginia has been trending blue in recent years (Democrats have won every statewide contest since 2012), the race is viewed as a barometer for the national political climate and could deliver a sneak peek of how things might shake out during next year's midterm elections.
"How Virginia votes will definitely set a precedent" for the 2022 midterm elections, Briana Smith, a 26-year-old rehab technician, said.
While a Youngkin loss would sting, the closeness of the race could signal that a candidate has the ability to unify the GOP's centrists and hard-liners without turning to Trump for support.
But a defeat for McAuliffe, a popular governor trying to win back his job, could be devastating for the Democratic Party's confidence, given Biden's comfortable 10-point margin of victory in Virginia last year, and the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful has suggested a loss would have national implications.
"If I were not to win this, this would be, as I say, the comeback of Donald Trump," McAuliffe said earlier this month. "This would lift him off the mat."
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Barnini Chakraborty
Original Location: Obama questions Youngkin's motives at Richmond rally for McAuliffe