ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) – President Joe Biden led the kind of campaign rally that was impossible last year due to the pandemic, speaking to nearly 3,000 people in support of a moderate Democratic colleague whose Virginia’s gubernatorial race could serve as a test of Biden’s own strength and tails.
Biden crossed the Potomac River on Friday night to support Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a second term whose centrist tendencies mirror those of the president in many ways. The race is seen as an early measure of voter judgment over democratic control over all branches of the federal government.
The president stood before an enthusiastic and largely unmasked crowd that gathered around a park pavilion and playground on a hot July night. He stressed that he shared the same vision as McAuliffe on the need for greater public investment in order to stimulate economic growth. But Biden was also focused on political issues.
“You won’t find anyone, I mean no one, who knows how to do more for Virginia than Terry,” Biden said. “Election outside the year, the country is looking for. This is a big deal. “
Biden highlighted his handling of the pandemic and highlighted the economic recovery in the first six months of his tenure, offering a window on his party’s message as he tries to maintain narrow margins next fall in both chambers of Congress. He also highlighted the relative popularity of his $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and called for action on his infrastructure plan, just as he did on official visits to districts. of Congress who are expected to see close races next year.
It was a clear return to politics as usual after 2020, when Biden had to speak to supporters who stayed in their cars at driving rallies or make remarks in front of a sparse and socially distant audience. Rock songs and tight people in the limelight suggest Democrats won’t be campaigning through Zoom meetings and conference calls this year.
Protesters against an oil pipeline interrupted Biden and the president shot his 2020 opponent as he told the crowd not to shout them.
“This is not a Trump rally,” Biden said. “Let them scream. Nobody pays attention.
McAuliffe’s victory in the primary for his state governor was part of a string of recent victories by self-proclaimed pragmatic candidates in relatively low-turnout elections – which tend to attract the most loyal base voters – and its run is being carefully watched by Democrats looking to shape their message for next year.
“This is an important test for the Biden administration. The margins are so small, and he must be able to use his influence to help candidates cross the finish line,” said Adrienne Elrod, senior presidential campaign adviser. Hillary Clinton in 2016. also worked on the inauguration of Biden. “His message is simple: keep his promises on vaccines, record job growth and infrastructure. “
McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, faces off against Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer who made his fortune in private equity. Despite the state’s blue trend over the past decade, racing is considered competitive. As one of only two regularly scheduled governor races this year, it is attracting disproportionate national attention as a potential measure of voter sentiment ahead of the 2022 midterm.
Biden and McAuliffe present themselves similarly, as moderate Democrats who don’t necessarily electrify the party base but who won their primaries on a pledge of eligibility. The run in Virginia could serve as a check on Biden’s status, and the Democratic National Committee has pledged to spend $ 5 million to help McAuliffe’s campaign this year, a clear signal the White House has prioritized the race.
Even though much of the Republican Party remains in the grip of Donald Trump, Youngkin has positioned himself as a more moderate Republican in a state that Trump lost by 10 points in 2020. He said he was “honored” by the approval of the former president of his campaign.
Democrats made several attempts to tie Youngkin to Trump on Friday.
“I’m telling you what, the guy Terry is running against is a sidekick of Donald Trump, for real,” Biden said. “I don’t know where these guys are from.”
Biden has long been a staunch activist on the road – and on the tightrope – during his tenure as Senator and Deputy Speaker, and became a successful substitute in 2018 when Democrats regained control of the House.
But the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the campaign for most of the 2020 race, and the events that took place for the general election streak were socially distant and infrequent. As the pandemic receded this spring, Biden, still the most tactile of politicians, reveled in interacting with people, spending an hour chatting with supporters at a recent event in Philadelphia.
Aides said he was eager to do the same in Arlington on Friday. But privately, there was heightened concern about the danger posed by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would follow federal health guidelines, which place no restrictions on those vaccinated.
Biden is committed to working with Republicans and has devoted enormous political energy to the bipartisan infrastructure deal. But he still sued the GOP on Friday, saying it “offers nothing more than fear, lies and broken promises.”
White House advisers have pointed to a poll that suggests Biden’s platform is widely popular with voters in both parties, even though it has received little support from GOP lawmakers in Washington. But Republican strategists questioned whether Biden’s poll numbers would translate into votes.
Although Biden and McAuliffe have been active in Democratic politics for decades, they have relatively few direct political ties, although McAuliffe led the state campaign for Biden in 2020. But their political and ideological similarities are many.
Virginia’s off-year election has always been viewed as a kind of national barometer, and “with the Democratic candidate being so philosophically close and similar to Biden, many may view Virginia as a stronger barometer than usual,” said Mark Rozell, a politician science professor at George Mason University.
Current Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, like all governors in Virginia, is barred from running for a second consecutive term. The other notable off-year election in 2021 for governor of New Jersey is not expected to be competitive, with Democrats likely retaining control.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press editors Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Va., And Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Va., Contributed to this report.