President Biden‘s failure to unite his party on two massive spending packages could damage Democrats’ hope of returning Virginia gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe to the governor’s mansion in November.
Budgetary fights on Capitol Hill play a key role in off-year elections, particularly in the commonwealth, where residents in Northern Virginia’s suburbs rely on federal jobs to support their families.
“The down-ballot elections tend to follow the path of whatever’s going on in national politics, and that link is tighter today than maybe ever,” said Andrew Ballard, an American University political science professor.
“But since Virginia has elections on odd-number years, you tend to see a link between how voters react to what’s going on in Congress and how voters react to what guides their behavior in state elections when there’s also not a federal election going on,” he added.
With Mr. Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, Mr. McAuliffe is particularly anxious for his party to pass these packages so he can welcome the president on the campaign trail to boast about legislative victories.
However, congressional Democrats have yet to agree on a top-line number for Mr. Biden‘s social spending package, which currently stands at $3.5 trillion — a sum that House progressives support, but moderates say is too high.
Moderate Democrats in both chambers favor voting for only a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package as a stand-alone measure first, but progressives have rejected that option.
Instead, Democrats on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s left flank have demanded a vote on both spending measures together. The intraparty fighting delayed the deadline on the infrastructure vote twice for lack of support within the party.
As a result, Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, established an Oct. 31 deadline to vote on the infrastructure bill. The new date gives the caucus more time to hash out differences.
However, the new timeline leaves Mr. McAuliffe and other Virginia Democratic candidates to campaign without a key legislative win for their party leader for all of October.
“Terry has urged Congress to quit with the chitty chat, do their jobs, and deliver for Virginians this vital federal funding for infrastructure, education, and more,” McAuliffe campaign spokesman Renzo Olivari said in an email.
“As Virginia’s 72nd Governor, Terry‘s priority every single day was creating good jobs and a stronger economy that lifted up all Virginians, and it will absolutely be again after he defeats the virus by following the science and continuing to lead on vaccines. Anti-vaccine advocate Glenn Youngkin has a history of opposing critical federal funds – he called critical federal funds for jobs, small businesses, and education in Virginia’ unnecessary’ – and his plans would decimate Virginia’s economy,” Mr. Olivari said.
Rich Anderson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, shot back: “The grim reality is that we are experiencing a 30-year high in inflation, and Washington liberals are trying to jam through a reckless tax-and-spend agenda that will make matters worse.”
“But they learned it from ‘The Godfather’ of the left-liberal Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe, who himself has proposed the biggest tax hike in Virginia history with a price tag of $5,400 per family,” Mr. Anderson said.
Mr. McAuliffe won his last election by 2 percentage points with the help of then-President Barack Obama on the campaign trail in 2013, breaking Virginia’s recent cycle of the party in power in the White House losing the gubernatorial election the year after a presidential race.
Mr. Biden, however, has weak approval numbers following the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows his approval rating dipping to 50% — the lowest of his presidency.
Should Democrats lose the governor’s mansion in Virginia and at least one chamber in Richmond, forecasters will consider the election a precursor for the 2022 midterm elections.
However, Mr. Ballard argues that if the passage of the spending packages happens in time for Mr. McAuliffe and other Virginia Democrats to talk about it on the campaign trail, the impact will be minimal.
“All else equal, if Democrats are able to pass some version of their spending packages in the next month or so, then there would be a slight bump for their candidates in down-ballot elections … if they get something done,” he said. “You would probably expect some relatively small bumps for Democratic candidates. If they can’t get something done, you might expect a slightly negative effect for Democrats.”