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Obama to Virginia Voters on Governor’s Race: Don’t “Indulge in Our Worst Instincts”

Former President Barack Obama had scorching words for Virginians on Saturday when he cast the state’s upcoming race for governor as a chance to “show the country and the world that we’re not going to indulge in our worst instincts.” Addressing some 2,000 people in Richmond, Obama urged voters to support Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and the state’s governor from 2014 to 2018), who is deadlocked with Trump-endorsed Republican Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin, a former private equity executive, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election for months and has made “election integrity” a focal point of his campaign—an approach shared by many Trump loyalists vying for other positions elsewhere. “We don’t have time to be tired. What is required is sustained effort,” Obama said. “Don’t sit this one out.”

The tightening gubernatorial race in Virginia is seen as a harbinger for next year’s midterm elections, which explains why Democratic heavyweights such as Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, and first lady Jill Biden have stumped for McAuliffe. (The president is expected to do the same in the coming days.) Virginia’s election has become the “latest proxy battle against Trumpism,” my colleague Eric Lutz has noted. Obama evoked such stakes on Saturday in his call to action. “Either [Youngkin] actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn’t believe it but he is willing to go along with it, to say or do anything to get elected. And maybe that’s worse…because that says something about character,” Obama said. 

The Washington Post Editorial Board also cited character as a test Youngkin has already failed by parroting former President Donald Trump’s baseless lies about the 2020 election. “At a moment when democracy itself is under assault, Mr. Youngkin chose to dignify a fundamental fiction that is subverting our system, rather than stand up squarely for the truth,” said the Post. In addition to promoting Trump’s Big Lie, Youngkin has seized on culture-war issues in his attempt to turn the state red, trying to tap into some parents’ anger over progressive education curriculums and COVID-19 policies such as mask usage. He has repeatedly claimed, including in a recent ad, that the “FBI is trying to silence parents.” Obama on Saturday decried Youngkin for “willing to go along” with “this fake outrage that right wing media has peddled to juice their ratings.” 

Youngkin’s strategy could have bigger implications nationwide: Weaponizing what he portrays as government interference in schools could—if it works—outline a strategy for GOP campaigns in other places, Politico notes. “If it succeeds here, you know every Republican congressional candidate in 2022 is going to pick that sucker up and run with it,” Ron Wright, a member of the Virginia state GOP’s central committee, told the outlet.

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