Jill Biden headlines Democratic rally in Henrico

Dems with national profiles try to fire up voters for McAuliffe

By: - October 15, 2021 11:44 pm

First Lady Jill Biden campaigns for former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (L) (D-VA), during a campaign rally October 15, 2021 in Henrico. The Virginia gubernatorial election is Nov. 2. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

With polls showing a tight race between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and GOP challenger Glenn Youngkin, first lady Jill Biden stumped for McAuliffe in Henrico, one of several high profile Democrats scheduled to campaign in Virginia between now and Election Day.  

At Dorey Park Friday night, Biden vouched for McAuliffe’s ability to lead in a bipartisan way.

“He knows how to bring people together because that’s the only way to get things done,” she said. “So today, Virginia, I’m asking you to vote for Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats on the ballot.”

Less than a minute into her remarks, a group of protesters holding a sign that said “Reject pipelines and protect the future” interrupted the first lady’s speech. Other attendees chanted “Terry” in response while Biden tried to continue speaking. 

Once the protesters had left, Biden said that she “loved democracy” and carried on with highlighting McAuliffe’s past accomplishments as governor, citing investments in education and transportation and the drop in unemployment rate. 

“I love the energy of this crowd,” Biden said. “When you’re around, it’s impossible not to feel optimistic.”

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, was the first but not the last to place an emphasis on the GOP grassroots rally in Henrico earlier in the week in which former President Donald Trump again endorsed Glenn Youngkin and repeated false claims of election fraud.

“Folks, they’re not playing with fire, they’re trying to set the whole thing in flames,” VanValkenburg said in reference to the people who attended the GOP rally.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also painted a dire picture of what could happen if Youngkin became governor or if Republicans win. Virginians are casting ballots for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 members of the House of Delegates next month. 

“If Republicans get a foothold right here in the commonwealth in November, all of our great progress will be wiped away,” Stoney said. “And what’s worse, Trump Republicans like Glenn Youngkin will usher in the kind of chaos and the kind of divisiveness we saw from Trump.”

The callbacks to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol continued with U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, recalling what it was like in the House chamber when it happened. 

“But you know what?” Spanberger said. “The best way to set the example of the standard that we expect for leaders in our government, leaders in elected office, is to make our decisions known at the ballot box.”

Hala Ayala, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, talked about her past as an employee at Popeyes, a gas station and working as a school administrator. She also pointed out that she would be Virginia’s first woman of color to be elected for the office of lieutenant governor. Ayala characterized the coming election as the most important one of Virginians’ lifetimes. 

“Not once but twice, Virginia, we have rejected Trump and his unhinged anti-science and anti-choice rhetoric, and it’s time for us to do it again,” Ayala said.

Looking back on his first time as governor, McAuliffe said he would roll up his sleeves this time to continue the work he started then.

“I want every woman in Virginia to know this, I will be a brick wall to protect your reproductive rights,” McAuliffe said after slamming Youngkin for his anti-abortion stance.

Even as he highlighted his plans to raise the minimum wage, make child care and health care affordable, provide paid sick days and family medical leave and invest in public education, McAuliffe continued likening Youngkin to Trump.

“Glenn Youngkin has spent this entire campaign trying to be a Donald Trump wannabe,” McAuliffe said.

So far, the polls have indicated a tight race, with a Monmouth University Polling Institute poll in September showing McAuliffe having a five-point lead over Youngkin and a University of Mary Washington poll the same month giving Youngkin the edge among likely voters, 48 percent to 43 percent.

However, Amanda Nelson, a 36-year-old from Chesterfield, said the polls don’t worry her.

“I mean the polls have been wrong for the last few presidential elections, so I’m trying to not really pay too much attention to it.”

Mark Atkinson, a retiree and tree farmer from Beaverdam, shared similar sentiments about the accuracy of polls. Atkinson, who also voted for McAuliffe the last time he ran for governor, said his reasoning for supporting McAuliffe hasn’t changed.

“I love that Terry McAuliffe talks about facts and figures and his 20 plans,” Atkinson said. “I think it’s really important to keep a level head in these very emotional, political times.”

Although Atkinson said he sees legislation to protect the environment as one of the most important issues, he criticized the protesters who interrupted Biden. 

“That’s not the way to do it,” he said. “I don’t know who those people were. It’s not a good thing to do.”

Former President Barack Obama will also campaign with McAuliffe in Richmond next week. And Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist and former Georgia state legislator, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, are scheduled to “barnstorm” the commonwealth this weekend to get voters to the polls, according to a McAuliffe campaign news release.

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Jackie Llanos Hernandez was a Virginia Mercury intern while studying journalism and anthropology at University of Richmond. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian.