By Ryan Teague Beck
Oct. 23, 2021, 4:40 P.M. -Updated on Oct. 23, 2021, 4:40 P.M.
Former President Barack Obama waded into Virgina’s gubernatorial race, criticizing Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin for supporting “phony, trumped-up culture wars” in his bid to flip the state.
Speaking at a rally in Richmond for Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Obama said Youngkin was seeking to win by signaling support for baseless claims about fraud in the 2020 election that led to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Either he actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn’t believe them but he’s willing to go along with them, to say or do anything to get elected,” Obama said of the former Carlyle Group co-CEO on Saturday. “And maybe that’s worse, because that says something about character.”
The rally was one of several early-voting drives held by McAuliffe’s campaign hosted by high-profile guests such as Vice President Kamala Harris and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. With national attention focused on the contest ahead of next year’s midterm elections, a rally with President Joe Biden is slated for next week.
Saturday’s event in front of a library at Virginia Commonwealth University attracted about 2,000 supporters. They were repeatedly encouraged to turn in mail-in ballots or go to one of the city’s early-voting sites, the closest of which was about a mile away.
Obama praised McAuliffe as an energetic former governor who could hit the ground running jobs and education. But like other speakers at the two-hour rally, he spent much of his speech arguing that Youngkin — whom he never specifically named — and Republican lawmakers would roll back expanded voting options, access to abortion and public health measures on the coronavirus pandemic.
He highlighted a recent pro-Youngkin rally in which attendees recited the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag from the Jan. 6 riot.
While Youngkin was not involved in planning the event and later said the pledge was “weird and wrong,” he has given mixed signals about former President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud, calling for an audit of the state’s voting machines and appearing at an “election integrity” event at Liberty University in the state.
McAuliffe’s lead has steadily shrunk from this summer. One recent poll showed him tied with Youngkin.
Republicans say the Virginia race could show a path to recapturing some of the suburban voters they lost during the Trump administration. Democrats are seeking to generate enough enthusiasm to maintain control of a state Biden won by 10 points last year.© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.