WASHINGTON: US First Lady Jill Biden campaigned on Friday in Virginia, the battleground in a nailbiting governor's race seen as a bellwether for next year's crucial midterm elections, reports AFP.
The 70-year-old educator, who still teaches in the state, was at a grassroots event in Richmond to "mobilize Democrats during early voting" ahead of the November 2 election, party officials said.
The majority party usually incurs losses during a president's first term, but defeat for McAuliffe would send shockwaves through Joe Biden's Democrats.
"Virginia needs someone who will work towards progress, not refight the battles of our past," Jill Biden told the crowd. "We know Terry. We know his values, we know his heart. He's worked with Republicans to make investments in education, improve transportation and strengthen your workforce. He knows how to bring people together, because that's the only way to get things done."
About a dozen environmental protestors interrupted Biden numerous times during the speech and were eventually ushered out. Desperate to hang on to the state, the Democratic party is sending in the big hitters, with former president Barack Obama set to follow as part of an effort to boost turnout among all-important Black voters.
President Biden, who carried Virginia by 10 points in 2020 but has seen his poll ratings slide since, is also expected.
Virginia has swung left over the last 15 years -- especially among the kind of suburban women seen as likely to warm to the first lady.
The White House has sought to play down Virginia's significance as a harbinger for the 2022 midterm elections, which could see Democrats losing both chambers of Congress.
"I will leave it to other outside analysis to convey that off-year elections are often not a bellwether," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who lives in Virginia, told reporters on Thursday.
Youngkin has been walking a tightrope, as many Republicans support Donald Trump's fraudulent campaign to relitigate the 2020 presidential election, which he falsely says was stolen from him.
Desperate to stir up the Republican base, Youngkin has refused to say whether he would have been among the lawmakers who certified the election after the January 6 assault on the Capitol.
But he has disavowed a flag carried during the insurrection to which Republican supporters pledged allegiance at a recent Virginia campaign event.
The Democratic National Committee has tried to make the race a referendum on the previous president, arguing that Youngkin's priority is "to bring Donald Trump's dangerous, divisive agenda to Virginia."
"He's not just flirting with extremist conspiracies anymore. Instead, he is embracing Donald Trump and the violent attack on our government," DNC chairman Jaime Harrison said Thursday.
Trump himself has not visited, although he called in to a pro-Youngkin "Take Back Virginia Rally" on Wednesday featuring former White House advisor Steve Bannon.
Schools have also become a central campaign issue, with Republicans galvanizing against mask mandates, mandatory vaccinations and other "culture war" talking points.
Perhaps sensing a political bloodletting in 2022, McAuliffe has distanced himself from Washington Democrats, arguing that Biden's struggle to get key legislation through Congress is complicating his efforts.
"We've got frustration with Washington. You know, why haven't we passed this infrastructure bill? It passed the US Senate with 69 votes two months ago," McAuliffe told CNN on Sunday.
"We're tired of the chitty chat up in Washington. Get in a room and get this figured out."
The first lady began a day of campaigning at a rally in New Jersey, where Governor Phil Murphy is expected to be returned comfortably in an election taking place on the same day as the Virginia vote.
"County by county, Phil will win this," she told the crowd, to cheers. "We need to look to the future, not the past."