Terry McAuliffe election anxiety manifesting in media dustups, campaign cash scrounging

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Terry McAuliffe just can’t seem to catch a break.

Even the most innocuous of interactions on the campaign trail are creating headaches for Mr. McAuliffe as he looks to regain his footing in a race against Republican Glenn Youngkin that Democrats fear could be slipping away.

The McAuliffe campaign on Wednesday found itself caught in a tit-for-tat with WJLA news in Washington over a television anchor’s assertion that he had ‘abruptly’ left an interview.

The McAuliffe campaign said the station was misleading voters and said he had fulfilled his agreement for a 10-minute interview.

Nonetheless, it amounted to another unwanted distraction for Mr. McAuliffe and more chum in the water for Mr. Youngkin and Republicans, who accused him of “losing it.”

Mr. McAuliffe is hoping to get things back on track this week when Vice President Kamala Harris parachutes into the state on Thursday and former President Obama stumps for him in Richmond over the weekend.

Mr. Obama also is featured in a McAuliffe ad that started airing Wednesday.

“Virginia you have a lot of responsibility this year,” Mr. Obama says in the “Our Values” ad. “Not only choosing our next governor, but you are also making a statement about what direction we are heading in as a country. I know Terry McAuliffe and I can tell you as governor no one worked harder for their state.”

The new spot coincided with the release of a Monmouth University poll that showed Mr. Youngkin has been gaining ground in the race and now is in a dead heat with Mr. McAuliffe.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said Mr. McAuliffe is likely concerned about how close his numbers are to Mr. Youngkin, a businessman and first-time political candidate.

“It’s basically a tie, and if I was looking at it from the McAuliffe point of view, I would be concerned about the polling because it shows that Youngkin is doing better among the most ardent and committed voters,” Mr. Bannon said.

Mr. McAuliffe has faced a series of blunders in recent weeks, including making comments in the last debate that parents shouldn’t have input in Virginia public schools.

Mr. Youngkin’s campaign quickly weaponized his comments into a campaign coalition dubbed Parents Matter that mobilized concerned voters with school-aged children to turn out for the Republican.

Mr. McAuliffe also walked back comments he made in a teleconference call griping about President Biden and Washington Democrats.

The candidate blamed the stalemate on Capitol Hill as well as Mr. Biden being “unpopular” in Virginia as being “headwinds” in his campaign, though he later clarified he didn’t think that was the case.

“It’s not dragging me down,” Mr. McAuliffe told CNN. “I worry about the people of Virginia.”

But, McAuliffe voters have expressed concerns about the lack of action by Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, a reality that’s become a roadblock in Mr. McAuliffe’s run in Virginia, according to experts.

“It doesn’t help McAuliffe if the Democrats are not getting something done that they promised to get done at the national level,” said Jim Thurber, a government professor at American University. “He’s getting punished for it.”

Mr. McAuliffe’s anxieties have been manifesting in campaign emails asking supporters to give small-dollar donations, warning of a potential loss come November.

“I’m scared to death right now,” one email subject read, signed off by political strategist James Carville.

Another email signed by Mr. Carville asked for donations after a Trafalgar poll had Mr. Youngkin carrying a one-point lead over Mr. McAuliffe.

“I don’t usually get worked up about a single poll, but this Trafalgar poll showing Glenn Youngkin with a 48.5 to 47.5 lead over Terry has me losing my damn mind,” the email read.

Mr. Thurber said that at this point in the race, any benefit is good for Mr. McAuliffe whether it be donations or the slew of high-profile Democrats set to campaign with the candidate in the coming week.

“Everything helps, especially the money, and that he’s linked Youngkin with Trump,” he said.

Mr. McAuliffe is hoping the visits from Ms. Harris and Mr. Obama will help boost voter turnout, particularly among voters of color with whom the Youngkin campaign has sought inroads.

Kerry Picket contributed to this report.

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