© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally in Dumfries, Virginia on Oct. 21, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarck
By Gabriella Porter
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday joined a list of top Democrats fighting for Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, in a race seen as a barometer of the country’s political direction after Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. Presidency over Republican Donald Trump a year ago.
Polls show that McAuliffe, who served as Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018, and Republican Glenn Youngkin, nearly tied in the countdown to the November 2 election.
A Monmouth University poll this week https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_VA_102021 shows Youngkin, 54, has shut off McAuliffe’s 5-point lead since September by winning ground with independent female voters and women.
Yongkin’s strength in the polls during the early weeks of early voting worried Democrats, who had predicted a comfortable lead in a state that has gone blue in recent years. Democrats overturned the Virginia legislature in 2019 and Trump lost the state by 10 percentage points in November 2020, double his defeat margin in 2016.
Obama, who served as president from 2008 to 2016, will speak at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on Saturday afternoon, aiming to boost McAuliffe, 64, into the final leg of the race. Biden is scheduled to campaign with McAuliffe next week.
In a television ad aired on Wednesday, Obama endorsed McAuliffe’s positions on climate change, abortion rights and voting rights.
“I watched Terry stand strong on the values we all care about; protecting every citizen’s right to vote, fighting climate change, and standing up for women’s right to choose,” Obama said of the former governor.
The current governor, Ralph Northam, a Democrat, cannot seek re-election because the state bars state governors from serving consecutive terms. McAuliffe can run because he left office in 2018.
Both candidates for governor discussed hotly contested cultural issues to galvanize voter participation in out-of-year elections, including abortion rights and how schools address issues of race and racism with students.
McAuliffe sought to portray Yongkin as a right-wing extremist and aligned himself with Trump, who endorsed the Republican candidate.
In turn, Yongkin noted that McAuliffe is trying to advance a far-left agenda. Yongkin, a former private equity executive, has focused in part on education—particularly the right of parents to have a say in their children’s education—which has proven popular with suburban women, a key demographic.
Yongkin drew a fine line between welcoming Trump’s endorsement and distancing himself from the former president’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Last week, Yongkin distanced himself from a rally held in his support, led by Steve Bannon, a longtime Trump aide, and Trump himself, speaking by phone. At the event, attendees pledged allegiance to the flag that event leaders said was on January 6, when Trump supporters led an attack on the US Capitol.
Yongkin issued a statement saying it was “strange and wrong” to pledge allegiance to a science he has links with on Jan. 6.