Tricky GOP dance for Trump and Youngkin in Virginia government race


RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – When Donald Trump rallied Republicans last week to vote for Glenn Youngkin as governor of Virginia, the former president called a rally of staunch supporters. This is perhaps what comes closest to the most watched election campaign of 2021.

While times may change in the final weeks of the race, the two are not expected to show up together in person until the Nov. 2 election against Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

“Is Trump going to come to Virginia? Yes. But that will be after the election for a rally for victory, ”said conservative talk show host John Fredericks, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in the state and also hosted Wednesday’s event. Youngkin’s campaign confirmed on Friday that it does not plan to have substitutes joining him until election day.

The dynamics reflect complex balance between Trump and Youngkin and could become a role model for other Republicans who will face competitive campaigns in 2022.

Trump is the most popular figure in GOP politics and is keen to stay engaged. Youngkin needs Trump supporters to come out and can’t risk giving Trump a reason to turn on him in the final weeks of the race. But Youngkin must avoid being too closely tied to someone who is unpopular in crucial parts of the state, particularly in the suburbs surrounding Washington, DC and Richmond.

Youngkin avoid of Wednesday’s event which also featured longtime Trump strategist Steve Bannon. He could soon find himself charged with contempt for refusing to cooperate with a US House committee investigating the Capitol Riot. The Republican rally sparked outrage after attendees recited the pledge of allegiance to a flag that the emcee said was hoisted during the Jan.6 uprising. Youngkin then criticized the use of this flag.

While Trump remains the party’s most powerful force nine months after leaving office, he lost Virginia by 10 percentage points in 2020 and is viewed favorably by only 44% of the state’s likely voters, according to a recent Fox News poll.

If Trump were to hold a rally in the state, “it would be a disaster for Youngkin,” said Bob Holsworth, a longtime political analyst in the state, adding, “The more he shows up and the more he participates, the worse the situation. . this is for Youngkin. “

At the rally, Trump hailed Youngkin as “a great gentleman,” while spreading lies about the 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Democrats were quick to condemn what they called “Donald Trump’s insurgent rally.” silence about the event itself.

Trump has little to gain by spending much more political capital on the race.

If Youngkin wins, Trump will certainly try to take credit for it, citing his participation in Wednesday’s rally, his support in May and any future efforts to get the vote out. If Youngkin loses, Trump can blame him for not aligning more closely with the former president.

“The only guys who win are the ones who embrace the MAGA movement,” Trump said in an interview with Fredericks. “When they’re trying to get down a train tracks, you know, ‘Hey, oh yeah, sure, I love it, I love it. Oh yeah, I love Trump, I love Trump, okay, let’s go. , next topic. When they do that, they never win. They never win. They have to embrace it. “

Youngkin’s campaign didn’t feature many big-name surrogates at its events, but McAuliffe summoned the power of the Democratic stars. Biden appeared with McAuliffe and the ex-governor’s campaign told The Associated Press the president will return before the vote. First Lady Jill Biden joined McAuliffe at a rally on Friday and former President Barack Obama will campaign with him next week.

Trump’s representatives did not answer questions about the race. Youngkin’s campaign did not answer questions about Trump.

Youngkin has oriented his speech more towards moderate and independent voters since winning the primary. While this campaign, Youngkin declined to say whether Biden was fairly elected. Youngkin has since said he thinks Biden is – and that he doesn’t think there was any significant fraud in the 2020 election.

Instead of following the mold of other Republican Blue State governors like Larry Hogan of Maryland and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Youngkin has operated on a solidly conservative set of platforms. He embraced some of the GOP’s culture war issues and vowed to help reject the “liberal left-wing progressive agenda” that he says shapes Virginia.

After mostly moving away from his focus on electoral integrity in the nomination contest, he focused campaign appearances and ads on crime, taxes, school choice and other issues. .

Democrats criticized him for recent remarks on auditing state voting machines and campaigning with State Senator Amanda Chase, a prominent campaigner of campaign lies who received the nickname “Trump in Heels.”

Youngkin has also previously said that Trump “is a big part of why I am running.”

“What Youngkin is trying to do is try to maintain MAGA’s base while absorbing the suburban defectors from the Democrats. And it’s difficult, ”Holsworth said,

Fredericks said it was a winning strategy.

“Here’s why Glenn Youngkin is going to win: We are holding Trump’s base together by a thread,” he said. “Glenn Youngkin and this campaign have never given up on the fundamentals that are important to Trump voters, not one day.”

Former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore said Youngkin had done a good job keeping the race tightly focused on his candidacy.

“I think nationalizing this campaign is not helpful to any of the candidates,” he said.

“Glenn has to be his own man” and “run his own race,” said former US Representative Tom Davis, who represented a district in Northern Virginia for 14 years.

Davis said he believes voters in Virginia are more concerned about Biden, whose approval rating has plummeted, than about Trump. People voted for Biden “to get Donald Trump out of their living room,” he said. “But they didn’t vote for all this stuff that Biden brings with him. And I think they’ll pump the brakes. “


Colvin reported from New York.


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