McAuliffe backtracks days before election, says governor’s race is ‘not about Trump’: ‘Significant shift’

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe seemed to change his tune on the role former President Trump has played in the governor’s race, telling the press over the weekend that it’s “not about Trump,” despite mentioning Trump’s name for months leading up to Election Day. 

The Democrat made the “not about Trump” comment at an event in Virginia Beach Saturday. 

McAuliffe, who served as governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018, has mentioned Trump a few times along the way, as media observers pointed out. For instance, he has routinely accused Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin of being a “Trump wannabe,” tying him to 45 on both the campaign trail and in the media. The McAuliffe campaign’s ads about Youngkin also remind voters that Youngkin once said Trump represents much of why he’s running for governor.

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Campaign signs for Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin stand together on the last day of early voting in the Virginia gubernatorial election in Fairfax, Va., Oct. 30, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Campaign signs for Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin stand together on the last day of early voting in the Virginia gubernatorial election in Fairfax, Va., Oct. 30, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

McAuliffe’s Trump comparisons also caught the attention of CNN’s Dana Bash, who in a recent interview jokingly told the Democrat she would take a sip every time he mentioned the former president’s name.

“You mentioned Donald Trump. I’m glad I have two cups here so I can keep drinking when you mention Donald Trump’s name,” Bash quipped.

Christian Martinez, the rapid response director for Youngkin, used the clip to reiterate the campaign’s point that McAuliffe “only ever talks about one thing … Donald Trump.”

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe fist bumps former U.S. President Barack Obama during his campaign rally in Richmond, Va. Oct. 23, 2021. 

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe fist bumps former U.S. President Barack Obama during his campaign rally in Richmond, Va. Oct. 23, 2021. 
(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

A recent Fox News poll showed Youngkin surpassing McAuliffe with 53% of the vote to McAuliffe’s 45%. Several pundits noted that his backtracking on Trump suggested a bit of desperation and was not a good sign for his campaign. Analysts have suggested the issue of education may have played a sizable factor in those numbers. Virginia parents have confronted their local school boards to voice concerns about progressive teaching agendas, only to be told by McAuliffe at a debate that they should not have a say in educators’ lesson plans. The Youngkin campaign quickly used that soundbite in campaign ads.

In the Fox News poll, 52% of those polled said they trust Youngkin more on education, to McAuliffe’s 44%. 

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“Biden literally said Trump’s name 24 times in one speech with McAuliffe last week,” Fox News contributor Joe Concha observed. “McAuliffe has also mentioned Trump at every stop.”

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There are other signs the McAuliffe campaign is starting to feel heat from Youngkin. The Democrat has recently received boosts from former President Obama, first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. 

ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl asked McAuliffe why he needed those assists last week, noting that he was competing in a state where a Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in 12 years. 

“We’ve got Stacey Abrams in here, two visits by the president, a visit by the former President Obama, a visit by the first lady, a visit by the vice president,” Karl said. “Why all the … why do you need all the help?”

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