Former President Donald Trump’s diving into the Virginia gubernatorial race has Democrats wondering if they should send him a thank-you note.
In an email statement Friday morning, Trump called Democrat Terry McAuliffe a “political HACK,” noting that the former governor accepted a $25,000 donation from him in 2009. He went on to praise Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin as an “incredible success” who can immediately fix “awful economic policy, terrible crime, and the worst education system promoting Critical Race Theory.”
McAuliffe’s campaign quickly responded with a flurry of tweets about Trump’s support for Youngkin and a fundraising email based on the statement. The Virginia Democratic Party released a statement calling Youngkin and Trump “the perfect match.”
“It’s the biggest gift that Democrats could ever ask for,” Jared Leopold, a Democratic strategist with extensive experience in Virginia campaigns, said of Trump getting involved in the race.
The reason: “Donald Trump has the best Democratic turnout machine since Barack Obama,” Leopold said.
Turnout in June’s Democratic primary was 9% lower than in 2017, when Trump was in office, and the path for the first statewide Republican victory in Virginia since 2009 largely rests on lower Democratic turnout due to less-engaged and enraged voters. McAuliffe has for weeks tried to tie Youngkin to Trump in hopes of motivating Democrats to get out and vote against the Republican.
McAuliffe is seeking a second nonconsecutive gubernatorial term because Virginia’s state constitution prohibits back-to-back terms. Youngkin, a first-time candidate, is former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group private equity firm.
Trump waited until after Republicans had chosen a nominee to endorse in the Virginia gubernatorial race, steering clear from getting involved in a chaotic process, but endorsed Youngkin soon after he won the nomination.
One Republican state party official brushed off the argument that Trump’s statement could help McAuliffe, signaling that McAuliffe bashing Trump provides an opportunity to expose the former governor’s hypocrisy. Youngkin’s campaign, which has recently pressed McAuliffe to reveal how much money he invested in Youngkin’s Carlyle group despite bashing the firm, took a similar stance.
“Terry McAuliffe knows he can’t beat Glenn Youngkin, which is why he is so desperate to run against someone else,” Youngkin spokesman Matt Wolking said in a statement. “The trouble for Terry is that he’s a total fraud who took $25,000 from Donald Trump, golfed with Donald Trump, hugged Donald Trump, toasted Donald Trump, and now pretends like he hasn’t been friends with him for nearly three decades. Terry is as slimy as Bill Clinton and as dishonest as Hillary Clinton, which makes sense because they’re his two mentors.”
But other Republicans privately acknowledge that even though Trump can boost Republican turnout in some states, Virginia is one where his intervention is likelier to motivate Democrats.
“The problem with Donald Trump is he has no ability to control himself,” Leopold said. “Glenn Youngkin has to do this dance in trying to please his base while trying to reach out to moderate voters, and Donald Trump can disrupt that dance with every press release he puts out.”
Trump similarly complicated Republican Ed Gillespie’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign. In one tweet, he said that Gillespie “might even save our great statues/heritage!” After losing the race by 9 points to Democratic now-Gov. Ralph Northam, Gillespie vented his frustrations on Democratic strategist David Axelrod’s podcast.
“I never talked about defending heritage because that’s not how I see the issue or view it,” Gillespie said. “But when the president tweeted about it himself, he tweeted about heritage, and that injected it into the discussion in a way I would not and never did,” adding that Trump ”polarized” the race.
Trump’s first tweets about the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race came in October, months later in the cycle than his chiming in about Youngkin now. His “getting involved with Youngkin so early will help define Youngkin early as a Trump guy,” Leopold said, calling it “poison in the suburbs.”
Youngkin is spending big trying to define himself as an individual candidate, pouring $2 million into television and radio ads since early May.
Though the former president is far from a cornerstone of Youngkin’s candidate persona, he has not necessarily shunned the former president. While he was running against several other candidates for the Republican nomination, Youngkin cut an ad highlighting how he worked with Trump on China policy. But the former president hasn’t been as prominently featured in Youngkin’s campaign since he won his party’s nomination.
Original Author: Emily Brooks
Original Location: Democrats welcome Trump involvement in Virginia governor’s race