Obama Campaigns alongside McAuliffe in Final Stretch of Virginia Governor Race

Obama Campaigns alongside McAuliffe in Final Stretch of Virginia Governor Race

Former President Barack Obama speaks during an Obama Foundation event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 13, 2019. (Lim Huey Teng/Reuters)

Former president Barack Obama will hit the campaign trail Saturday to rally support for Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in the final stretch of the close race against Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin.

The polls have tightened in recent weeks, projecting a tie of 46 percent to 46 percent among registered voters with a margin of error of 3 percent in either direction, according to a recent Monmouth University poll. A boost in voter engagement for Youngkin, amid the Loudoun County school board scandal and a reinvigorated debate over parents’ role in public education, is likely responsible for the erosion in McAuliffe’s lead from last month.

After declaring at a debate against Youngkin that parents should not have a say in shaping school curriculum, McAuliffe attempted to clean up the comment in an ad, insisting he does in fact value parent involvement.

To compensate for the recent polling shortfalls, McAuliffe has recruited Obama as well as other prominent Democrats including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison to lobby on his behalf. However, given Biden’s plummeting job performance rating, especially among independents, McAuliffe’s continued association with the president could backfire.

At a virtual campaign rally early this month, McAuliffe recognized that negative energy surrounding Biden could jeopardize his election prospects in Virginia.

“We’re facing a lot of headwinds from Washington,” he told the audience. “As you know, the president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through.”

McAuliffe has also appealed to celebrities for a campaign boost, hosting a “Get Out The Vote Bus Tour” featuring actors Blake Cooper Griffin and musician Dave Matthews.

The enthusiasm gap between Republican and Democratic constituents in Virginia is growing, with motivation for Youngkin expanding among the crucial demographics of independents and suburban women, cutting into McAuliffe’s margin, Mark Rozell, dean and Ruth D. and John T. Hazel chair in public policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University told The Hill. 

Amid repeated accusations from the McAuliffe camp that his challenger will be a Trump clone, the Youngkin campaign has remained laser focused on a grassroots mobilization strategy, giving a platform to Virginia parents concerned with the hyper-politicization of their school districts.

While Obama’s advocacy for McAuliffe could throw him a lifeline, Rozell said Democrats should exercise caution. “One should not overstate the ability of a popular politician to transfer his popularity automatically into large scale turnout,” he said.

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