Youngkin goes solo, McAuliffe leans on surrogates in home stretch of Va. governor’s race

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Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is going at it alone in the home stretch of Virginia’s gubernatorial race and passing on the chance to invite the GOP’s biggest guns into the state.

Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe is embracing a different strategy, rolling out the red carpet for Democratic Party players, musicians and Hollywood actors as part of a last-ditch effort to energize voters and retake momentum.

Mr. McAuliffe already has joined forces with former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris. He plans to join forces this week with President Biden.

Mr. Youngkin kicked off a “Win with Glenn” bus tour over the weekend, touting it as a chance to draw a “contrast between the grassroots enthusiasm for Glenn Youngkin’s candidacy and Terry McAuliffe’s desperate campaign that needs fellow career politicians Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Kamala Harris, and Barack Obama to draw mediocre crowds that attended to see the surrogates, not Terry.” 

Mr. Youngkin, a former private equity CEO and political newcomer, is focusing his final message on cutting taxes, curbing regulations and more parental involvement in public education.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said Mr. McAuliffe is calling in reinforcements because he is desperate.

“The only person who is excited about Terry McAuliffe’s candidacy is Terry McAuliffe,” Ms. Porter said. “They are calling in these big name politicians to try to drum up support and enthusiasm in places where Terry McAuliffe has none.”

“Glenn is running as an outsider,” Ms. Porter said. “We are not doing our closing rallies like a typical politician would.”

McAuliffe spokesperson Renzo Olivari said Mr. Youngkin isn’t calling in the big guns because he is trying to hide his ties to former President Donald Trump and his allies.

Mr. Olivari said Mr. Youngkin has campaigned with the likes of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Attorney General William P. Barr. 

“And Glenn’s No. 1 endorser — Donald Trump — campaigned for him in that infamous rally last week where he reminded everyone that Glenn will do ‘everything we want’ him to do,” he said, alluding to Mr. Trump’s recent call to a “Take Back Virginia Rally.”

“Virginians have rejected Trump and his agenda twice before, and they will again this year,” he said.

Mr. McAuliffe has tried to make the race a referendum on Mr. Trump, seeing it as crucial to getting reluctant voters off the couch. 

“McAuliffe is bringing in the big names to fire up the Democratic base, but nothing would fire up the Democratic base more than Trump coming to Virginia to campaign and Youngkin knows that,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. 

“Youngkin already sealed the deal with the Trump voters,” Mr. Rozell said. “He doesn’t need Trump to bring them out, and he doesn’t want Trump to bring out the Democrats or turn the independents.”

The election is serving as an early test of Mr. Biden’s agenda, and the outcome will serve as a barometer for the 2022 midterm elections in which Democrats will be defending their fragile hold on Congress.

Mr. McAuliffe served as governor from 2014 to 2018. Virginia bars governors from serving consecutive terms. 

His push for another four years in the governor’s mansion comes after Mr. Biden carried the state by 10 percentage points over Mr. Trump in 2020.

Mr. McAuliffe, though, finds himself locked in a dogfight with Mr. Youngkin roughly a week out from Election Day.

A Monmouth University poll released last week showed that Mr. Youngkin and Mr. McAuliffe each had the support of 46% of registered voters. The Presidential Coalition, a conservative group, commissioned a separate poll of likely voters last week that found Mr. Youngkin had a 43% to 41% lead over Mr. McAuliffe, and that 11% of respondents were still up for grabs.

The lead is within the polls 3.8 percentage point margin of error.

“With neither candidate close to 50% of the vote, and a flood of ads, candidate appeals and heavy-hitter surrogates expected to visit the state as Youngkin and McAuliffe make their final appeals, this is anyone’s race,” GOP consultant Kellyanne Conway said in the poll analysis. “In a state that Biden-Harris won by 10% a year ago and where McAuliffe was governor for four years, Youngkin has made the race competitive.”

Both polls showed that Mr. Youngkin is gaining steam and that Mr. McAuliffe shot himself in the foot in the final debate when he said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Mr. Youngkin is urging his supporters to seize the moment.

“In fact, this is no longer a campaign. This is a movement,” Mr. Youngkin told supporters in Henrico over the weekend. “It’s our movement to reinvigorate, to restart, to build a Virginia a new day. A new day for Virginians where we all soar and never settle.”

Looking to regroup, Mr. McAuliffe joined forces with Mr. Obama, musician Dave Matthews and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

“As far as I can tell the big message of Terry’s opponent is that he’s a regular guy because he wears fleece and he’s accusing schools of brainwashing our kids,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of roughly 2,000 in Richmond.

“You can’t run ads telling me you are a regular old hoops-playing, dish-washing, fleece-wearing guy, but quietly cultivate support from those who seek to tear down our democracy,” the former president said.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who headlined a private fundraiser for Mr. Youngkin over the summer, is set to return to Virginia this week to speak about education, but he does not plan to team up with Mr. Youngkin.

Brandy Mokar, 47, of Richmond, said it is clear why Mr. Youngkin hasn’t publicly leaned more on Mr. Trump or his coterie of allies.

“I think then it would show his true colors,” said Ms. Mokar, a Democrat. “I think that he hasn’t done it because he realized that it would be a motivation for a lot of people who might still be on the fence.”

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