Dems see peril in tight Virginia gov race…


WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s slumping approval ratings and gridlock on Capitol Hill have raised the risk that Democrats could lose the Virginia governor’s race, according to party insiders who fear a defeat could spark broader legislative and electoral problems in the coming year.In a sign of the rising anxieties, the party’s nominee in Virginia,…

imageWASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s slumping approval ratings and gridlock on Capitol Hill have raised the risk that Democrats could lose the Virginia governor’s race, according to party insiders who fear a defeat could spark broader legislative and electoral problems in the coming year.In a sign of the rising anxieties, the party’s nominee in Virginia, former governor Terry McAuliffe, is imploring Democrats in Washington to resolve their disputes and enact a sweeping infrastructure plan that has passed the Senate but faces hurdles in the House.He warned Wednesday that voters he has spoken to are “desperate out here for road and bridge money” and wondering where it is.”Democrats have got to quit talking, and they’ve got to get something done,” McAuliffe said in a telephone interview.

“You got elected to get things done.We have the House, Senate and White House.” During his final debate against Republican business executive Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday night, McAuliffe distanced himself from some of the decisions Biden and congressional Democrats have made in recent weeks, as he sought to appeal to moderate voters.

He urged Democrats to pare down an ambitious expansion of the social safety net and did not rebut Youngkin’s sharp criticism of the president’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.Party officials say that McAuliffe, who holds a slim polling lead over Youngkin, remains the favorite to win at this point.But they fear that a loss in an increasingly blue state – where they have won every statewide contest since 2012 – is a growing possibility, and one that would erode confidence in the Biden presidency, forestall the remainder of the president’s legislative agenda and make it harder to recruit candidates for the midterm elections.With voting underway in Virginia, Democrats say that external factors are not trending in McAuliffe’s direction.Biden’s approval rating has plummeted into the mid-40s nationally amid a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and resurgence of coronavirus infections.A Washington Post-Schar School poll this month found that a minority of Virginia voters, 46%, approved of Biden as president, while 51% disapproved.

Independents, who backed Biden by 19 points in exit polls in November, supported Youngkin by a margin of 52% to 44% among those likely to vote.Biden campaigned for McAuliffe this summer, and White House aides have left open the possibility of a return trip, according to officials with knowledge of the White House view who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning.But some of the former governor’s allies say Biden doesn’t pack the punch he did as a surrogate as recently as a few months ago, when his approval rating was stronger and steadier.”I think Biden’s poll numbers are dragging McAuliffe down,” said John Morgan, a Florida trial lawyer who gave $100,000 to McAuliffe’s campaign and was a major Biden donor.

“I think when voters see dysfunction, they tend to look at parties, and go, ‘The Democratic Party is dysfunctional.You know, why not give somebody else another chance?’ And so, I worry for Terry.” Moreover, Washington Democrats are locked in a complex stalemate that has imperiled the infrastructure bill and a plan to expand social programs – twin proposals they campaigned on and hoped to present as accomplishments this fall and in 2022.

Yet the fate of both proposals remains uncertain and, in the eyes of many Democrats outside Washington, poorly sold to the public.McAuliffe said Democrats need to “do a better job of explaining what they are fighting for” on the social spending plan, in addition to shrinking it.

Democrats say showing tangible results to voters will be key to reversing their political fortunes, both in Virginia and across the country.McAuliffe said he would like Biden to campaign for him down the stretch – but not empty-handed.”Here’s what I want: I want him coming back, and I want him announcing the billions of dollars that we’re going to do on our roads and bridges in all parts of the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said.In some ways, Biden has shown Democrats a road map for success.

His recent embrace of vaccine mandates has been a political winner, polls show, and McAuliffe endorsed the approach.Youngkin stumbled on the topic in Tuesday’s debate, which Democrats immediately seized upon.White House officials are watching the race closely, cognizant of the major problems a defeat could pose heading into 2022.Publicly, they have sought to project confidence and distance the president from what is happening on the ground.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House does not see the race as a referendum on Biden’s agenda.”If people support that agenda, maybe they’ll support what Terry McAuliffe is running for, but races are always a little bit more complicated than that,” she said.

White House political director Emmy Ruiz said that Biden aides remain confident they will have a good story to tell voters across the country.”And make no mistake about this, the American people expect Congress to act, and we have two great proposals ahead,” she said, speaking of the domestic policy bills that have prompted disagreements in the party.Yet other Democrats warned that the stakes of a loss could be far-reaching for Biden and his party and portend serious consequences ahead.Moderates in the party, who tend to come from more competitive parts of the country, could become even more hesitant about the grand scale of Biden’s legislative efforts, they said.”It would absolutely scare Democrats across the country who would be immediately concerned that, regardless of any other data, we are looking more like 2009 and 2010,” said Josh Schwerin, a former McAuliffe adviser, referring to losses in the years following President Barack Obama’s election.

“The Virginia loss was seen then as an early sign that we were entering into a disastrous cycle.” The 17-point Democratic defeat in the 2009 Virginia governor’s race, just one year after Obama won the state by six points, set the tone for punishing midterm elections a year later, when Republicans reclaimed control of the House by flipping 63 Democratic seats.It was the clearest early signal to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that the transformational promise of Obama’s election had sparked a down-ballot backlash among Republican voters.The results also fit a pattern that has been dominant in Virginia for decades; the party that controls the White House has lost every gubernatorial election, with the exception of McAuliffe’s win in 2013.Since then, the state has continued to drift into the Democratic column – but not far enough to engender full confidence, strategists say.With much of the Biden legislative agenda still in limbo, some in the party have been calling for more investment in the Virginia race in the final weeks.

“Climate or women’s rights or civil rights groups need to take a very serious look at what they are doing in Virginia and ask themselves, are they willing to set their agenda on fire for the next eight months by sitting this out?” said one Democrat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.”It’s the ballgame.” The Democratic National Committee has dramatically increased its spending compared to the last governor’s race, in 2017, increasing its commitment from $1.5 million to more than $5 million.The DNC also plans to soon air digital and radio ads supporting McAuliffe, according to two people familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.But investments from other liberal groups, including those that support abortion rights, gun regulation and civil rights, have declined.Biden’s issue advocacy group, Build Back Together, has focused its spending in the off year on places where there could be competitive Senate and House races in 2022, in an effort to shore up support for the president’s legislative agenda.

Some Democrats in Virginia express optimism that the results next month will show the state has shifted meaningfully over the past decade.”It’s important not to overstate the impact events this week on Capitol Hill will have on Virginia.Is it helpful? No.

Is it fatal? No, because I think our voters are more sophisticated than that,” said Rep.Gerald Connolly, D-Va.”If we really have realigned, the default favors Democrats.We don’t know.

But I am not discouraged by early voting.” Influential Republicans across the country, who have long felt that Virginia would be an uphill climb, have begun showing a greater interest in the contest, seeing it as the first big test of how the Democratic brand will play after Donald Trump’s presidency.”GOP confidence has been slowly increasing in this race,” said Dan Eberhart, an oil industry executive and GOP donor.”The national Democrats’ leadership isn’t wearing well, and Virginia will be the first concrete sign of this.” National themes were a prominent topic of discussion in the final debate between McAuliffe and Youngkin.The Republican was sharply critical of the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan and Biden’s handling of the migrant surge at the border with Mexico.

“We saw an abject failure of leadership from Joe Biden,” Youngkin said, speaking about the Afghanistan withdrawal.When it comes to the border, “it’s absolute chaos,” he added.When it was his turn to speak, McAuliffe did not attempt to defend Biden’s strategies, instead voicing support for the military and listing steps he has taken to back veterans.Both McAuliffe and Youngkin supported the infrastructure bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support and would make sweeping investments in roads, bridges and other transportation projects.But McAuliffe said a $3.5 trillion companion package Democrats are trying to pass to fund child care, community college, health care and other social programs needs to shrink.”I think the 3.5’s too high,” he said.McAuliffe, as he has throughout his campaign, aggressively sought to tether Youngkin to Trump, noting the former president’s support for his opponent’s campaign.

“He’s a total wannabe Donald Trump,” McAuliffe said.Democrats are wagering that anti-Trump anger will remain high this fall, particularly among the party base and the swing suburban voters who helped propel Biden to the White House and delivered Democrats control of Congress.But in the state’s White, rural pockets, enthusiasm for Trump remains high, forcing Youngkin to strike a difficult balance.

That tightrope walk was on display in the debate, when Youngkin was asked whether he would support Trump if he runs for president in 2024.”Who knows who’s going to be running for president in 2024?” Youngkin replied.Pressed on whether he would support Trump if he is the GOP nominee, Youngkin said he would.Internal Democratic polling has matched much of the public polls, according to people familiar with the numbers, showing a tight race with a small advantage for McAuliffe.But off-year elections tend to swing heavily on turnout, and the enthusiasm of voters who do not feel they are represented in Washington is not always picked up by pre-election polls.One question is how many Black voters, who represent a core part of the Democratic base in Virginia, will turn out.

Quentin James, who co-founded the Collective PAC to elect more Black Democrats, said there is an “enthusiasm gap” in Virginia that will take work to overcome.”At some point, people want change, and we’re not getting any of that with these two White guys running,” James said.”Even him saying $3.5 trillion is too much to spend on the budget package – that isn’t where the energy in the party is.That’s calling it quits on the 50-yard line.” – – – The Washington Post’s Karina Elwood and David Weigel contributed to this report.Read More ‘Race-norming’ kept former NFL players from dementia diagnoses.Their families want answers.’Covid hit us like a cyclone’: An Aboriginal town in the Australian Outback is overwhelmed Two kids, a loaded gun and the man who left a 4-year-old to die Subscribe to The Post Most newsletter for the most important and interesting stories from The Washington Post..

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