Former US president Barack Obama urged voters Saturday to back the Democrat in a neck-and-neck state election touted as a test of the party's prospects in next year's midterm elections -- casting the Republican as a threat to democracy.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is vying for a second term as Virginia's governor, has seen his lead extinguished in recent polls and is in a dead heat with Republican Glenn Youngkin ahead of the November 2 vote.
Obama told a cheering crowd of several hundred rapt supporters at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond that Youngkin would cut teaching jobs, restrict abortion access and back Donald Trump's fraudulent campaign to convince Americans that the last election was stolen from him by President Joe Biden.
"As far as I can tell, the big message of Terry's opponent is that he's a regular guy because he wears a fleece. And he's accusing schools of brainwashing our kids," Obama said.
"He's also said he wanted to audit the voting machines used in the last presidential election again. Really? Encouraging the lies and conspiracy theories that we've had to live through all this time? And yeah, we're supposed to believe he's going to stand up for our democracy?"
The McAuliffe camp fears turnout among supporters in an off-year election may be low and has brought in some of the party's heavy hitters in the final stretch, including First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Biden won Virginia by 10 points in 2020 and the last time Republicans won a statewide race there was 2009.
But the McAuliffe-Youngkin battle has been tightening, with a survey released this week by Monmouth University showing the Democrat's earlier lead evaporating.
A McAuliffe win would boost Washington Democrats' push for twin infrastructure and social welfare mega-bills that are the cornerstone of Biden's vision for remaking the economy.
But a loss could spook moderates already nervous over the high price tag, which they are trying to chisel down from a combined total of almost $5 trillion to around $3 trillion.
Party chiefs hope Obama, still the most popular Democrat on the national stage five years after leaving office, will galvanize Black voters, a key constituency in Virginia.
"I'm here today because I believe Virginia will make the right choice. I believe America, ultimately, will make the right choice," Obama told the crowd of a few hundred cheering supporters.
"I believe you right here in Virginia are going to show the rest of the country, and the world, that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts. We're not going to go back to the past that did so much damage, we're going to move forward with people like Terry leading the way."
The first genuinely competitive election since Biden took office is expected to be a harbinger of the national political landscape ahead of next year's midterm elections.
Wedged between the Washington suburbs in northern Virginia, a Democratic stronghold, and the state's conservative south and southwest, Richmond could go either way.
McAuliffe, 64, has tried to make the race a referendum on twice-impeached Trump.
Youngkin, 10 years his junior, has focused on the fight over schools, with Republicans railing against mask mandates and running ads showing McAuliffe saying he doesn't want parents involved in education.
'Resurgence Of Trumpism'
In a delicate high-wire act, Youngkin has been trying to conjure the spirit of Trump while not specifically endorsing his false election fraud claims that are backed by the majority of Republicans.
The former president has not visited, although he called in to a pro-Youngkin "Take Back Virginia Rally" on October 13 featuring former White House advisor Steve Bannon and other prominent promoters of Trump's election fraud lies.
McAuliffe, who took the stage before Obama, pledged to work with "Reasonable Republicans" to improve the lives of Virginians.
"I'll work with you, but let me make one thing perfectly clear today. Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican. I call him Donald Trump in khakis," he told the crowd of a few hundred.
"Do we want a lapdog for Donald Trump to be our governor here in the Commonwealth? No we don't."
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