Former President Obama is coming to Virginia to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, one of several Democratic heavyweights to stump for the once and would-be future governor. However, the de-facto leader of the Republican Party, former President Donald Trump, hasn’t made a stop in Virginia to support GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin. Since the nominating convention, Youngkin has pivoted away from Trump and hard-line Republicans and successfully pulled some independents away from McAuliffe, who is turning to souls-to-the-polls events and big names like Obama, first Lady Jill Biden, Stacey Abrams, and Vice President Kamala Harris to boost turnout among the Democratic faithful.

The Virginia gubernatorial election is seen as a test for Republican messaging that can maintain the Trump-loving base while reaching moderates. If Youngkin is successful, that spells bad news for Democratic congressmen across the country in swing districts, according to conventional wisdom, which expects Republicans to make gains in 2022. The race is already threatening to dampen enthusiasm for national Democrats’ more ambitious political goals.

“You have to ask yourself if you’re Abigail Spanberger or Elaine Luria, in swing districts, and McAuliffe loses this race, and the Republicans take over the House of Delegates, if you continue to back Pelosi’s radical spending bills, you’re signing your political obituary,” The Virginia Star Publisher John Fredericks said.

“Instead of following in the mold of other blue-state Republican governors like Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Youngkin has run on a solidly conservative set of platforms. He has embraced some GOP culture war issues and promised to help reject the ‘left liberal progressive agenda’ that he says is shaping Virginia,” The Associated Press reported.

Some pundits have argued that Virginia’s political conditions meant that the race was always going to be competitive. But as Virginia shifts bluer, even a close Youngkin loss will still be seen as a psychological blow to Democrats.

“In a state that [McAuliffe] was expected to win by ten or fifteen, if he wins it by one or one and a half, it means that things are flipping and there’s no guarantee that even if he does win, the Republicans are not going to take the House,” Fredericks said.

So far, Youngkin’s Trump tightrope-walk has been working with voters. Enthusiasm among Republicans is high, and although the former president has warned Youngkin against his balancing-act strategy, the MAGA base seems understanding and supportive of Youngkin’s efforts to defeat top Trump enemy McAuliffe. Still, Trump, widely expected to run for president again, has taken several opportunities to insert himself in the dialogue, with multiple endorsements, including a phone call at a John Fredericks-organized MAGA get-out-the vote rally on October 13.

Youngkin wasn’t present at the event, but was forced to distance himself from some pro-Trump activities at the rally. He’s also been criticized for campaigning with Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), who has fully embraced the MAGA base.

Political analyst Bob Holsworth told The Associated Press that a full-on Trump rally in Virginia would be a “disaster for Youngkin,” continuing, “The more he shows up and the more he participates, the worse off it is for Youngkin.”

McAuliffe has spent the campaign emphasizing Youngkin’s links to Trump, mostly based on Youngkin’s initial reticence to comment on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and his support for more election integrity laws in Virginia. McAuliffe fundraising emails have repeatedly warned of Youngkin’s closeness to Trump.

That has worked to some extent. On Monday, CBS Reporter Aaron Navarro tweeted that McAuliffe’s campaign raised over $2 million in less than a week after the October 13 rally. And even as Republican enthusiasm seemed to climb among voters, in September, McAuliffe outraised Youngkin $12.6 million to $7 million, according to The Virginia Public Access Project.

But Fredericks said McAuliffe’s anti-Trump message has limits among voters, and that the recent appearance of Democratic superstars isn’t likely to help win back independents. Youngkin has been running on gas and grocery taxes, school educational issues, and opposition to mandates — issues that Fredericks said appeal to coveted suburban voters.

“They’re campaigning against a ghost. The guy’s not in the race. Trump is in Mar-A-Lago, Florida, playing golf,” he said. “He can’t run on the issues, so he has to pick orange man bad and make like he’s the candidate. The problem is, he’s not running against Trump. He’s running against Glenn Youngkin, and he’s running against mothers.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to eburk@vastarnews.com.
Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin. Photo “Terry McAuliffe” by Terry McAuliffe. Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.