Former US President Barack Obama accused Republicans on Saturday of threatening democracy ahead of local elections seen as a national test of President Joe Biden’s popularity, as the latter engages in tough negotiations with Congress over a massive investment plan.
Obama flew to Richmond to support Democrat Terry McAuliffe, 64, the candidate for governor of Virginia, who is vying with Republican Glenn Youngkin, 54, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, with the November 2 election approaching.
In front of a few hundred enthusiastic activists who gathered at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Obama spoke that Youngkin would eliminate teaching positions, limit access to abortion, and would support Trump’s claims that the presidential election was stolen from him.
Obama continued, “He accuses schools of brainwashing our children. He also said that he wants to examine the voting machines that were used in the last presidential elections (…) and we are supposed to believe that he will defend our democracy?”
Biden won Virginia by 10 points in 2020. The last time Republicans won a statewide vote was in 2009. But McAuliffe has fallen behind in the polls in recent weeks.
And Obama, who remains the most popular Democrat in the United States five years after leaving the White House, wanted to rally African-American voters, a key electorate in this southern state, especially in the Richmond area, where a statue of a troop commander was removed last month during The Civil War, General Robert Lee, after he had become one of the focus of the anti-apartheid protests.
Emphasizing his understanding of why people are “tired” of politics, Obama recalled that during his first presidential campaign, which led him to the White House in 2008, he met a 106-year-old African-American woman who had come to support him. “I told myself, if she’s not tired, I have no right to be tired,” he added.
“If John Lewis (the civil rights pioneer who died in 2020) is not tired, we have no right to be tired,” Obama said to applause.
“I’m here in Virginia because I think Virginia will make the right decision at the end of the day,” he said.
“I think you will show here in Virginia, to the rest of the country and the world, that we will not indulge our worst instincts. We will not go back to the past that has done so much damage. We will move forward with people like Terry leading the way.”
Prior to Obama’s visit, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party, Stacy Abrams, traveled to Virginia to support the McAuliffe campaign. The US president is also expected to travel there next week.
McAuliffe’s victory in the elections will give impetus to the massive investment program that the left wing of the Democratic Party is seeking to pass in Congress. His failure could lead to more caution on the moderate wing of the party, which is still reluctant to agree to some $3 trillion in spending.
McAuliffe, who spoke before Obama, promised to work with “reasonable” Republicans to improve the situation in Virginia.
“I’m going to work with you, but let me tell you one thing today: Glen Yongkin is not a sane Republican. To me, he’s Donald Trump in brown pants. Do we want a Donald Trump doll as governor? No, we don’t!”
Yongkin, for his part, focused on schools and campaigned against mandatory face masks, so far avoiding supporting the former president’s claims that the elections were stolen from him.
Trump did not go to Virginia, but rather joined virtually on October 13 a campaign rally in support of the Yongkin campaign attended by his former adviser, Steve Bannon.