The memo: Virginia’s race is a proxy war between Trump and Biden

Previous President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe, Youngkin hold final campaign rallies ahead of tight Virginia gubernatorial race Poll: 50 percent of Republicans don’t think their vote is accurately counted overnight Defense and National Security: The Sub-Deal Showdown intensifies MORE He tried to join Glenn Youngkin on Monday, in the latest example of how Virginia’s gubernatorial election is resonating across the national political landscape.

Trump complained in an emailed statement that the media had falsely suggested that there was distance between him and Youngkin, the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s election. Instead, “we get along very well together and strongly believe in many of the same policies,” Trump insisted.

In fact, Youngkin has been careful to keep Trump at arm’s length during the general election campaign. Trump has not appeared on the runway with Youngkin, and a telerally Trump is holding urging him to support the Republican nominee Monday night will not feature Youngkin.

But for Trump, all of this is beside the point.

The tight race for governor is, in a way, a proxy war between President BidenJoe Biden Biden Administration Targets Methane Emissions McConnell Criticizes Possible Payments to Separated Migrant Families Poll: 50 percent of Republicans don’t think their vote is accurately counted MORE and Trump.

A Youngkin victory would give Republicans a big boost across the country, and Trump wants to position himself to take some of the credit.

Such an outcome would deepen Biden’s already significant problems, which include falling approval ratings, difficulty passing his legislative agenda, supply chain restrictions and public dissatisfaction on issues such as inflation and immigration.

Even a narrow victory for Democrats in Virginia probably wouldn’t be enough to calm the party’s nerves as it looks ahead to next year’s midterm elections, and beyond, toward the 2024 presidential election, where they fear the specter of Trump. resurrect.

Early in the Virginia campaign, Democrats hoped their nominee, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, would enjoy a path to victory in a state where Biden beat Trump by 10 points last year. Although Virginia was once a Republican stronghold, no Republican has won a state election there since 2009.

However, the race was considerably tense in the final stage. Youngkin has leveraged the schools issue, a topic that spans frustration over COVID-19-related mandates, conservative mistrust of local school boards, and controversy over teaching American history, to propel himself forward in the polls. .

Meanwhile, McAuliffe’s campaign has faltered amid anecdotal accounts from a listless Democratic voter base. Biden’s position in the Commonwealth is mediocre, with an approval rating of 40 in various polls.

The upshot is that Youngkin appears to have the momentum for Election Day Tuesday. The level of excitement at recent campaign events has been tangibly higher for Youngkin, even in the Democratic-leaning northern Virginia suburbs.

A Youngkin event in West Springfield on Saturday night, for example, had a noticeably more enthusiastic crowd than the one that attended Biden’s only appearance with McAuliffe, in Arlington, several days earlier.

On Monday, the University of Virginia Center for Politics changed its career rating from “Leans Democrats” to “Leans Republicans.”

“We know, based on President Biden’s weak approval ratings, that the environment is, frankly, horrible for Democrats,” wrote Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman of the university.

To be sure, few things have gone well for Democrats in the run-up to Election Day.

McAuliffe had enthusiastically lobbied his party colleagues on Capitol Hill to pass two major Biden-backed bills. Doing so would have given him something to show for Democratic control of the White House, Senate, and House.

Instead, that process has stalled in tortuous internal negotiations. The legislation is expected to pass eventually, but it will be too late to push McAuliffe forward.

The bigger picture, according to Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky, is one in which “what Biden and the Democrats need to do is give [Democratic voters] something to vote for. Right now, there is a feeling among Democrats that they came to the promised land last November and the party in Washington has not handed them over the things they voted for. “

Roginsky added: “As of today, I’m not sure the Democrats have anything to energize from nationally.”

But beyond the obvious notion that Trump will rejoice if Youngkin wins, the lessons of the race are complicated when it comes to the former president.

Trump did endorse Youngkin, and the Republican candidate has never roundly rejected him, despite the election taking place just 10 months after the Jan.6 uprising on Capitol Hill that the former president incited.

Yet at the same time, Youngkin’s television commercials are remarkably anti-Trumpian, positioning him as an affable businessman rather than a standard-bearer for the MAGA country.

McAuliffe has been far more eager to emphasize the ties between Trump and Youngkin. Shortly after Trump’s email Monday morning, McAuliffe issued his own statement, which used the words “Trump” or “Trumpism” ten times in three paragraphs.

“Glenn Youngkin has been campaigning all over promoting the Trump agenda,” McAuliffe said.

Some Republicans agree. They say the reason Youngkin is even in contention in a blue-tinged state is because he has kept his distance from the former president.

According to Republican strategist Doug Heye, Youngkin has shown that he “doesn’t want to run in opposition to Trump, but he can put himself in a position where he’s talking about trouble, and he’s not just a Trump acolyte.”

Of course, it’s still possible for McAuliffe to get a win on Tuesday.

But however the outcome goes, it will have political repercussions beyond Virginia, from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

The Memo is a column reported by Niall Stanage.

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