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Terry McAuliffe

Biden predicts Democratic win in Virginia but election remains too close to call

The election is seen as the first major test of Joe Biden’s political brand.

US PRESIDENT JOE Biden has predicted victory in the state of Virginia today as voters pick their next governor, in a toss-up race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

“We’re going to win. I think we’re going to win in Virginia,” Biden told reporters on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

“You know, you’re reporting it being close. The race is very close. It’s about who shows up, who turns out.”

The election is seen as the first major test of Biden’s political brand.

A harbinger of the parties’ prospects in next year’s midterm elections, the race between former governor McAuliffe and tycoon Youngkin has narrowed in recent weeks and could go either way.

While both candidates see voter turnout as the key in this off-year election, McAuliffe has relentlessly sought to tar Youngkin as a devotee of Donald Trump, saying the former president is “rallying up his base of right-wing extremists” in a bid for victory.

“We have a chance to deny darkness its day and keep the drumbeat of progress,” McAuliffe tweeted as polls opened at 6.00am (10am Irish time). “Together, we will build a better future for our Commonwealth. VOTE.”

Youngkin likewise called his supporters to action. “Today is your last shot to cast your vote and bring a new day to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he tweeted after greeting voters at a middle school in Chantilly.

A McAuliffe win would reignite Washington Democrats’ faltering push for twin infrastructure and social welfare mega-bills that are the cornerstone of Biden’s $3 trillion (about €2.6 trillion) vision for remaking the economy.

With both packages bogged down by infighting in Congress, moderates would likely see defeat in Virginia as a warning from the electorate to ease up on the president’s historic spending plans.

On the Republican side, a loss for Youngkin could finally touch off a reckoning of a different sort on the party’s previously unshakeable fealty to twice-impeached Trump, who lost Virginia by 10 points last year.

‘Left, liberal, progressive’

Elections are also being held in multiple other states including New York, where voters are choosing a new mayor, and in New Jersey, where a Democratic governor seeks re-election in another nationalized race.

But Virginia is where the battle lines appear most visibly drawn in a referendum on the Biden presidency, with McAuliffe calling the state “a must win”.

If Democrats turn out, “we’ll defeat Donald Trump by a huge margin, just like we did in 2020,” McAuliffe said in an email to voters.

“But if we don’t see that turnout, it’s over.”

As he tries to mount a return to an office he held four years ago, McAuliffe must negotiate significant headwinds, with the majority party in Washington usually incurring losses during a president’s first term.

Youngkin has been performing his own high-wire act, as the vast majority of Republicans believe Trump’s false claims that the presidency was stolen in a fraudulent election, making acknowledging the truth politically risky.

While he was seeking the nomination, Youngkin conjured the spirit of the former president, refusing to say whether he would have voted to certify Biden’s election victory after the failed insurrection by Trump supporters on 6 January.

But the wealthy former investment banker (54) has managed to distance himself from Trump at the business end of the campaign, focusing on local “culture war” issues like abortion, mask mandates and the teaching of America’s racial history.

“This is a moment for Virginians to push back on this left, liberal, progressive agenda and take our commonwealth back,” Youngkin told a rally on Monday in state capital Richmond.

Trump has not campaigned here in person, although he has angrily denied a rift with Youngkin and released an incendiary statement yesterday smearing McAuliffe as a “low-life politician who lies, cheats, and steals”.

In contrast, a number of other big-name Democrats have wooed Virginians in recent days, including former president Barack Obama, First Lady Jill Biden and party rising star Stacey Abrams.

McAuliffe took an early lead in the race but his seven-point cushion has tightened. The latest polling average by political analysis website FiveThirtyEight shows Youngkin ahead by one point.

Leaning into his image as the establishment candidate, the 64-year-old McAuliffe has sold himself as a former incumbent who brought back jobs after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, and has pledged to repeat the trick for the pandemic.

Biden joined McAuliffe in Arlington last week, blasting Youngkin as “an acolyte of Donald Trump” and warning that extremism “can come in a smile and a fleece vest”.

More than a million Virginians cast their ballots early, state election officials said. Experts believe it could take days to determine the winner.

© AFP 2021 

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