Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in closely watched Virginia gubernatorial race

President Joe Biden traveled a few miles across the Potomac River on Friday evening to stump for former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is in a crucial race to retake his old job.

It was Biden’s first in-person campaign event appearance since becoming president — one in which an estimated 3,000 supporters gathered in a park in Arlington, some without masks, as the president reminded the crowd about the state of the pandemic.

"I know folks are watching the number of cases rising again and are wondering what it means for them. Well here's the truth. If you're fully vaccinated, you're safer with a higher degree of protection but if you're not vaccinated, you are not protected," he said, touting Virginia's progress in getting shots in arms.

"It's not about red states or blue states or guys like that. It's about life and it's about death."

Virginia chooses its governors in off-year elections, which usually attract only the most enthusiastic voters. But McAuliffe's race is perceived to be competitive, and Biden, highlighting his administration's achievements, made clear that the nation is watching.

“I mean this, not just for Virginia, but for the country. The country is looking. These off-year elections, the country is looking," he said. "This is a big deal.”

McAuliffe overwhelmingly won the Democratic nomination to return to his old job in June, setting up a general election in November against Republican Glenn Youngkin. Both political parties are watching the contest, largely as an early test of the nation's political climate a year after the tumultuous 2020 presidential race and a year ahead of the crucial midterm congressional elections.

Biden won 54 percent of the vote in Virginia in 2020, defeating former President Donald Trump, who got 44 percent in a state that was once highly competitive but where the Democrats' advantage grew during the Trump era.

Trump has endorsed Youngkin, a former private equity executive, after he was nominated from a seven-candidate field through a party convention.

Biden used his speech to tie Youngkin tightly to the former president.

“Terry and I share a lot in common: I ran against Donald Trump, and so is Terry," Biden quipped. "And, I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia, and so will Terry. I tell you what: The guy Terry’s running against is an acolyte of Donald Trump, for real.”

Biden was most impassioned when discussing veteran hospitals that are helped by his American Rescue Plan — hammering the lectern. Virginia has one of the largest active-duty military populations in the country.

“No veteran — from my son, who passed away, on— should pick up a phone and say, 'I need help,' and [they] say, 'We can't see you for a while,'" he said. "We owe them immediate action. It’s a sacred obligation.”

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