Vice President Kamala Harris drove home the stakes in Virginia’s tense governor’s race in a rousing speech Thursday night, proclaiming that electing former Gov. Terry McAuliffe isn’t just about the state, but “is also about our nation” and its progress in addressing inequities exposed by the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking to a packed crowd in front of a rescue squad building in Dumfries, a small town in Prince William County, Harris shook off chants by climate change protesters to focus on what she termed the importance of McAuliffe’s bid to return as governor. Polls show a tightening campaign against Republican Glenn Youngkin less than two weeks before the election.
After joking, “I love democracy,” the nation’s first Black vice president said: “We will not be distracted. We will not be dissuaded. We will not be deterred. This election is too important.”
Harris, who turned 57 on Wednesday, responded to a birthday serenade by asking for McAuliffe’s election as her gift and then warning of the consequences if he fails. A Monmouth University poll out Wednesday showed McAuliffe and Youngkin each receiving 46% among registered voters, with the Republican gaining an advantage with voters who consider themselves independents and improving his polling numbers with women.
“This race is tight. And what happens here, I promise you, is about the people of this state and the people of our country,” Harris said.
Harris contrasted McAuliffe, a public figure long before he served as governor from 2014 to 2018, with Youngkin, a former private equity executive who is a first-time candidate.
“When you elect somebody as governor, you want to make sure you really know who they are. Well, we know who Terry is.”
The vice president’s appearance in voter-rich Northern Virginia marks an escalating effort by McAuliffe to turn out the vote in population centers that have fueled Democrats’ winning streak in statewide elections.
Last Friday McAuliffe campaigned with first lady Jill Biden in Henrico County. Over the weekend, he campaigned in Hampton Roads with Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her 2018 bid to become governor of Georgia but helped win the state for President Joe Biden and two U.S. Senate candidates.
This Saturday former President Barack Obama will join McAuliffe at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. President Joe Biden will return to Arlington County on Tuesday, making his second visit with McAuliffe to the Democratic stronghold in Northern Virginia.
“Everything is at risk that we fought for over the last eight years,” McAuliffe said in a fiery speech. He warned about what he termed the danger that Youngkin’s election would pose to women’s right to an abortion, voting rights and to Virginia’s efforts to protect residents from COVID-19 by requiring vaccinations and face masks.
The Republican National Committee mocked Harris’ appearance in Virginia.
“Everything Kamala Harris touches fails,” said RNC spokeswoman Elizabeth Ray, citing the vice president’s efforts to stem illegal immigration across the U.S. border with Mexico. “She’ll fit right in with Terry McAuliffe’s failing campaign.”
Harris’ presence meant everything to House Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian, D-Prince William, a Black minister who lives in Woodbridge but serves a church in Dumfries, an old seaport along a creek off the Potomac River, with a minority-majority population.
“It’s about energy down here!” Torian said after meeting with Harris shortly before her speech.
Democrats would need voter energy to hold onto the governor’s mansion, as well as the lieutenant governor’s and attorney general’s offices, and control of the House of Delegates.
“All these big, bold plans I have, I’ve got to have a Democratic House of Delegates,” McAuliffe said.
The election also will have big consequences in Washington, where Biden is struggling to carry out his agenda with two massive spending bills, a 50-50 split in the Senate and a narrow Democratic majority in the House that could disappear in the midterm elections next year, especially if Youngkin becomes the first Republican to win statewide office in Virginia in 12 years.
“Yes, it is about the state of Virginia,” Harris said. “It is also about our nation.”
She warmly embraced McAuliffe as someone “who walks his talk” and is willing to get into what the late Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights leader and Democratic congressman from Georgia called “good trouble.”
“He knows that when it’s good trouble it’s worth a good fight.”
Harris said the outcome of the contest is important to protecting women’s reproductive rights, helping workers organize for better pay and benefits, and combating what she called “a climate crisis” over greenhouse gases warming the planet.
She said all of it depends on turning out Democrats to vote.
“We’ve got to make it clear, Virginia, that we’re paying attention,” Harris said. “We’ve got to make it clear that we’re not taking anything for granted.”