Biden tests campaign messaging in Virginia governor’s race

Trip will be president's first campaign stop of the off-year elections

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, previously campaigned with President Joe Biden in 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, previously campaigned with President Joe Biden in 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 23, 2021 at 2:29pm

The distance from the White House to Lubber Run Park in Arlington, Va., is only about six miles, but the short trip Friday evening gives President Joe Biden a first chance to try out his messaging as a campaign surrogate.

Biden will be stumping for former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is running to return to office following a four-year absence prompted by Virginia’s unusual term-limits law that allows a governor to only serve one consecutive term.

McAuliffe is a household name and he should be heavily favored in the race, with Biden having carried the commonwealth in 2020 by about 10 points and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., winning reelection by 12.

But Virginia's off-cycle gubernatorial races can go against the Democratic tide in the state, and Biden’s early visit to the D.C. suburbs, along with McAuliffe already hitting the airwaves, demonstrate that Democrats will not be taking any chances.

Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., who represents a northern Virginia-based House district and previously served as lieutenant governor, said in a Friday interview that the unusual timing of the race for Virginia’s executive mansion always gives it particular prominence.

“We tend to think of it as an off-off [election] here, because, you know, only New Jersey has a gubernatorial election the same year. But at the same time, the governor of Virginia, and we look back to Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, and some remarkable people, is a very elevated role,” Beyer said. “I don’t want to say our governors are more important than other governors, but I think we probably think that.”

The Republican nominee, businessman Glenn Youngkin, has been drawing the contrast between his experience and McAuliffe’s longstanding Washington connections. And Republicans are taking note of such an early Biden appearance.

“McAuliffe must be looking at grim poll numbers if he needs the President to campaign nearly 4 months from Election Day,” Republican Governors Association spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement. “With violent crime spikes and skyrocketing inflation at the top of voters’ minds this year — the harmful policies and rhetoric supported by Biden and McAuliffe will be squarely in focus during this visit.”

Beyer said he did not think the president’s visit to Arlington was early; with the state’s aggressive adoption of early and absentee balloting, voters will be voting well before November 2.

“I don’t think it’s early at all. I mean, first of all, Glenn Youngkin, is spending a lot of money on television, including the expensive Northern Virginia market, where you get all of metro D.C.,” Beyer said. “So I don’t think it’s too early. And, yeah, the election is, you know, early November, so that’s three months in a few days away.”

To be sure, the Democrats will be seeking to tie Youngkin to former President Donald Trump, but it wasn't immediately clear how much Biden himself would address his predecessor as a campaign surrogate.

"Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican. He is a loyalist to Donald Trump," McAuliffe said in his first TV ad, released Thursday.