Democrats' struggles in Congress sap enthusiasm for McAuliffe in Virginia


Frustration over President Biden’s stalled agenda is seeping into the Virginia governor’s race and sapping excitement from Democratic voters.

Supporters of Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe say they are disappointed that Democrats in Washington haven’t accomplished much despite controlling Congress and the White House.

Some say the tension on Capitol Hill is hamstringing Mr. McAuliffe in the race, which is in a dead heat with GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin.

“I’m scared because there’s not a lot of energy I see in this campaign,” said Ann Hunter Roe, 77, of Richmond. “I don’t know what to think, except that I’m hoping that the people that are Democrats will show up” at the polls.

In Washington, Democrats are scrambling to mend divisions between the party’s progressive and moderate wings to pass Mr. Biden’s scaled-down $2 trillion social welfare and climate change bill, as well as a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.

“I am worried that the divisions of the Democratic Party are blocking things,” said Ms. Roe, a retired social worker. “It’s almost like they want to get elected on the basis of their very strong point of view and their advocacy.”

Mr. McAuliffe served as governor between 2014 to 2018 and is seeking a second non-consecutive term. His campaign refused to comment for this story.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia has argued that “the single best thing” the party can do for Mr. McAuliffe is getting work done by passing the infrastructure bill or a China competition bill.

“Internal squabbles on the Democratic side are preventing the president from a win on either of those and directly reinforcing the message that Democrats know how to govern is a challenge,” Mr. Warner recently told Politico.

Jim Thurber, a political science professor at American University, said the gridlock on Capitol Hill has drained enthusiasm in the Virginia race. He said that’s one reason Mr. McAuliffe has brought in high-profile Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, to generate excitement in the final stretch of the race.

“People are turned off, and therefore, turnout will go down. And that’s why you’ve got people, very prominent Democrats, like Obama, coming over there to campaign to try to get people excited,” Mr. Thurber said.

Mr. McAuliffe is set to campaign with Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday and Mr. Obama on Saturday.

Richmond resident Teresa Crowley, 38, who attended a rally for Mr. McAuliffe with First Lady Jill Biden last week, said Mr. Biden and the Democrats should be working harder to get their agenda passed.

“I’m very disappointed,” Ms. Crowley, a registered Democrat who works for a credit card company.

Ms. Crowley said her excitement about Mr. McAuliffe also dwindled after his recent comments on parents’ input in schools and she attended the rally to “know more about who I’m voting for.”

In the final debate with Mr. Youngkin, Mr. McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” The remark has haunted his campaign since, despite his efforts to walk it back and clean it up.

“I really don’t agree with that,” said Ms. Crowley, who has three children ages 4, 5 and 12 years old. “I feel like we as a parent, you do have a say so in your kids’ teaching. We should be heard and in consideration of our kids and their environment and what they’re around.”

Matt Grossmann, a political science professor at Michigan State University, said the potential benefit of Mr. Biden’s blocked agenda also could be a demotivating factor for Republican turnout in statewide races, more so than if he had been able to swiftly implement new policies.

“It’s a trade-off,” Mr. Grossmann said. “He would increase support among Democrats if he was able to pass something big, but that has historically also led to more of a backlash on the other side.”

Ballots are already being cast in Virginia’s expanded early voting period.

Despite dissatisfaction about what’s playing out at the national level, Henrico resident Marcie Agie, 67, remained optimistic about Mr. McAuliffe’s chances.

“I already voted, and I voted the Democratic ticket because I think that’s what’s going to help us the most,” Ms. Agie said.

Mr. McAuliffe was slightly ahead in what polls show is a very tight race.

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted Oct. 4-11 had Mr. McAuliffe up by 3% with 50% over Mr. Youngkin’s 47%.

The poll surveyed 1,040 likely voters and had an error margin of 4.1 percentage points, which is greater than Mr. McAuliffe’s 3-point edge, making the poll a statistical tie.

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