President Joe Biden tested his political muscle in the state of Virginia on Friday in a campaign stop for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, who Biden said was running against an “acolyte” of former President Donald Trump.
The off-year state race could be a sign of Democrats’ strength or weakness ahead of the 2022 midterm congressional elections, as well as a test of the political strength of the president and his Republican predecessor.
Democrats hope next year to keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives, in which they have a slim majority, and the Senate, in which there is a 50-50 split, while Republicans hope to take over leadership of both chambers.
Biden traveled the short distance from Washington to a park in Arlington, Virginia, for the event for McAuliffe, a long-term fixture in Democratic politics who is running for a second term as Virginia governor in November’s election.
“Terry and I share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump and so is Terry,” Biden said. “I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry.”
Trump lost Virginia in both 2016 and 2020.
McAuliffe’s opponent in the governor’s race is Virginia businessman Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who has been endorsed by Trump. “The guy Terry’s running against is an acolyte of Donald Trump for real,” Biden said. “I don’t know where these guys come from.”
A poll released earlier this month by the Trafalgar Group said the race was tight, with McAuliffe at 46.8% support and Youngkin with 45%. Virginia in recent years has been trending Democratic based on overwhelming support from the northern part of the state. Biden won the state in 2020.
“Terry McAuliffe must be worried about his terrible poll numbers if he’s already calling in political favors this early in the campaign,” said Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter.
Biden kicked off his remarks by tweaking some conservatives who have recently begun recommending vaccination against COVID-19.
“Some of our very conservative friends have had an altar call. They’ve seen the Lord,” he quipped.
The Virginia race is likely to be seen as a referendum on Biden’s first year in office and a test of strength for the Democratic president. The party that holds the White House usually loses seats in Congress in the first midterm elections after a new president takes over.
McAuliffe eagerly sought to inject Trump into the race. McAuliffe said of Youngkin: “He’s not running for you. He’s running for Donald Trump.”
McAuliffe, who has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and was a close ally of then-President Bill Clinton, is running four years after ending his first term. State law forbids a governor from running for re-election.