WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden was scheduled to take his first major political outing since taking office on Friday, campaigning for a moderate Democrat whose race for Virginia governor could serve as a test of Biden’s own strength and skirt laps.
Biden took a brief trip across the Potomac River to support Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a second term whose centrist bias in many ways mirrors that of the president. The race is also seen as an early measure of voter judgment about the democratic control of all parts of the federal government.
It was expected that Biden would point out his management of the pandemic and highlight the economic recovery in the first six months of his tenure and provide a glimpse into his party’s messages aiming to maintain tight margins in both houses of Congress next fall. He planned to use his campaign appearance to highlight the popularity of his $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and call for action on his infrastructure plan, similar to what he did on official visits to congressional districts held in the expected to see close races next year.
McAuliffe’s win in his state’s gubernatorial primaries was one of a string of victories by self-proclaimed pragmatic candidates in relatively low turnout elections – which tend to attract the most loyal grassroots voters – and his race is carefully watched by Democrats seeking to shape their news for next year .
“It’s an important test for the Biden administration. The margins are so small and he needs to be able to use his clout to help candidates cross the finish line, ”said Adrienne Elrod, a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign who also contributed to Biden’s inaugural address Has. “His message is simple: that he keeps his promises about vaccines, record jobs and infrastructure.”
McAuliffe, who previously served as governor from 2014 to 2018, meets Glenn Youngkin, a political freshman who made a fortune with private equity. Despite the state’s blue trend over the past decade, the race is viewed as competitive and, as one of only two regular gubernatorial races this year, it is attracting oversized national attention as a potential gauge of voter sentiment ahead of the 2022 midterm election.
Biden and McAuliffe similarly profile themselves as moderate Democrats who don’t necessarily electrify the party’s base, but who won their primaries on the promise of eligibility. The Virginia race could serve as a check on Biden’s status, and the Democratic National Committee has pledged to spend $ 5 million to support McAuliffe’s campaign this year, a clear signal that the White House is prioritizing the race.
White House officials, including senior adviser Mike Donilon, said on a briefing call with reporters this week that they are betting that voters will reward Biden for his policies while Republicans seek identity politics.
However, Youngkin has distanced himself from ex-President Donald Trump, even if a large part of the Republican Party remains in the servant of the ex-president.
Long an avid activist, on the go – and on a rope – during his tenure as Senator and Vice President, Biden emerged as a successful replacement in 2018 when the Democrats regained control of the house.
But the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated campaigning for much of the 2020 race, and the events held for the general election track run were socially distant and infrequent. As the pandemic receded this spring, Biden, always the most tactile politician, enjoyed interacting with people and spent an hour chatting with supporters at a recent event in Philadelphia.
Aides said he would do the same in Arlington on Friday. But in private life there was growing concern about the danger posed by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will follow federal health guidelines that have no restrictions on people who are vaccinated.
Biden has pledged to work with the Republicans and has put tremendous political energy into the bipartisan infrastructure deal. However, he was still expected to persecute the GOP, particularly because of efforts by Republicans to restrict access to ballot papers in a number of states and how Trump fueled the January 6 uprising in the U.S. Capitol.
White House officials have pointed to polls suggesting that Biden’s agenda is universally popular with voters in both parties, although it has received little support from GOP lawmakers in Washington. But Republican strategists doubt whether Biden’s poll numbers can be translated into votes.
“This will be the first real test of how voters feel about Democratic control. What does the electorate look like without Trump on the ticket? ”Said Alex Conant, who was a senior advisor to Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid. “The approval ratings of the president are relatively good, but nobody trusts the polls anymore.”
While both Biden and McAuliffe have been active in democratic politics for decades, they have relatively few direct political connections, despite McAuliffe spearheading the state campaign for Biden in 2020. However, their political and ideological similarities are far-reaching.
Mark Rozell, a professor of political science at George Mason University, recalled that McAuliffe was interested in running for president himself in 2020, but held back and deferred Biden, knowing they would take the same political streak that Rozell described as “centrist-progressive”. “
Virginia’s off-year elections have always been viewed as some sort of national guiding star, and “with the Democratic candidate so philosophically close and similar to Biden, many may see Virginia as a stronger guiding star than usual,” Rozell said.
The current Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, like all governors of Virginia, is prohibited from seeking a second consecutive term. The other notable New Jersey governor election in 2021 is not expected to be competitive as the Democrats are likely to remain in control.
Biden’s political activity was sparse during his first six months in office, mostly just a few virtual fundraising drives. And his trips have also been restricted because of the pandemic.
Biden ventured no further west than Texas, where he visited the site of the devastating storms in February. And he hasn’t spent a night in a hotel in the United States, limiting his travel to states from which he can return to the White House or Delaware at the end of the day.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press authors Matthew Barakat of Falls Church, Virginia and Sarah Rankin of Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report.