Obama’s campaign stop in Richmond is also no coincidence. The state’s capital and surrounding suburbs are one of the key battlegrounds in the state, and is the same city Obama campaigned in for now-Gov. Ralph Northam in the days ahead of the 2017 gubernatorial race.
Youngkin, too, was in the region on Saturday. Around the same time as McAuliffe’s rally, the Republican nominee and former private equity executive was hosting a meet and greet at a Richmond restaurant just a couple miles down the road. He also had a pair of rallies scheduled in the Richmond suburbs, Chesterfield and Henrico, later on Saturday.
But Youngkin is taking a decidedly different strategy than McAuliffe. For the Richmond-area events, and the rest of his bus tour, Youngkin’s campaign said it would be eschewing national surrogates in favor of “everyday Virginians,” with Youngkin mocking McAuliffe in a statement for relying “on big name surrogates to draw paltry, apathetic crowds.”
It does not mean that Youngkin has totally cast off national Republicans — he has previously campaigned with politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who recently headlined a fundraiser for him. Avoiding big-name Republicans in the final days of the race is an attempt to not further remind voters of Trump, who has backed his campaign but has not physically appeared in the state.
“The biggest reason is because it’s a state that, obviously, is politically challenging for Republicans,” said Zack Roday, a Richmond-based Republican strategist. Roday said that Democrats bringing in big names creates a good contrast for Youngkin and likened it to his work on then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s successful 2014 reelection, when he said Democrats also brought in many of the same heavy hitters as McAuliffe to try to energize the base.
He said he expected Youngkin to continue his heavy focus on education in the closing days of the race. “He’s smartly picked tactics,” he said. “He’s deployed tactics with this bus tour to underscore that, versus shifting gears. There’s no point to shifting gears if it is working.”
Democrats have long been trying to goad Trump into visiting the state, hoping to further highlight the connection between Youngkin and the former president and secure voters in the state who fled the GOP because of the former president. But failing that, Democrats hope the visits from top surrogates will fire up supporters nevertheless.
“When you have these core Democrats, like the Obamas,” Democratic pollster Carly Cooperman said, “I think it increases the likelihood of getting Democrats that maybe feel apathetic or maybe don’t want to show up.”
“If McAuliffe can turn out Democrats, he should be able to win this race,” Cooperman, whose firm recently independently polled the race, continued. “Maybe they’re not enthusiastic about him, but maybe Obama will give the extra push.”
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