President Biden on Tuesday seemed fixated on former President Donald Trump in a Virginia stump speech for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor.
Biden mentioned Trump by name 24 times during a brisk 17-minute speech in a park near the Pentagon in northern Virginia, attempting to use his predecessor’s legacy to bash Republican Glenn Youngkin, who is tied with McAuliffe in polls in a state Biden won by 10 points just a year ago.
The suddenly tight Virginia race with Youngkin has become a test of Biden’s political strength ahead of next year’s midterm elections and a possible rematch with Trump in the 2024 presidential race — and comes as Biden’s approval ratings and polling on core issues has nosedived.
The Virginia race has focused heavily on Biden as the president’s approval ratings drop amid setbacks including high inflation and a supply-chain bottleneck following a chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan, a continued US-Mexico border crisis and a resurgence of COVID-19 infections caused by the more contagious Delta variant.
The Virginia governor’s race and close gubernatorial contest in New Jersey, also next week, are seen as a test of support for national Democrats. A defeat could sap momentum for Biden’s social spending and infrastructure legislation in Congress and hint at trouble for Biden’s party going into the 2022 midterms.
“I ran against Donald Trump. Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump,” Biden said, slamming the ex-president and accusing him of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, as well as for disparaging former secretary of state Colin Powell and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) after they died.
Biden even appeared to taunt Trump, who frequently boasted of low unemployment rates before the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “Donald Trump is the only president since Herbert Hoover in the ’30s to see more jobs lost than gained.”
“He won’t allow Donald Trump to campaign for him in this state,” Biden claimed. “He’s willing to pledge his loyalty to Trump in private, why not in public? What’s he trying to hide? Is there a problem with Trump being here? Is he embarrassed?”
Trump has not campaigned for Youngkin.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, has repeatedly drawn heat for his stance on parents’ role in the education of their children, an issue Youngkin has seized upon.
On Monday, Youngkin released a video ad attacking McAuliffe for saying parents should not have a say in what their children are taught in school.
“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said in a debate against Youngkin. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
During his remarks in Virginia, Biden also praised outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) — who he called to resign for “racism” in 2019 over a blackface scandal.
“First of all, it goes without saying how much I appreciate your current governor, Ralph Northam. Where’s Ralph? There you are, pal!” Biden said.
Biden was also interrupted by hecklers opposed to the Line 3 oil pipeline. He urged the crowd not to react negatively, saying “this is not a Trump rally, we let them holler!”
After his remarks, Biden mingled mask-less with supporters at the outdoor venue — a rarity for Biden, who often wears a mask outdoors, including when he greets officials on airport tarmacs.