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Analysis: Trump, Youngkin     10/16 06:46

   

   RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- When Donald Trump rallied Republicans this week to 
vote for Glenn Youngkin for governor in Virginia, the former president called 
in to a rally of diehard supporters. That may be the closest he gets to 
campaigning in the most closely watched election of 2021.

   While schedules could evolve in the final weeks of the race, the two are not 
expected to campaign together in person before Election Day next month.

   "Is Trump going to come to Virginia? Yes. But it will be after the election 
for a victory rally," said conservative talk show host John Fredericks, who 
served as Trump's campaign chairman in the state and also organized Wednesday's 
event. Youngkin's campaign confirmed Friday it does not have any plans for 
surrogates to join him in the race's final stretch.

   The dynamic reflects the complex balancing act between Trump and Youngkin 
and could emerge as a model for other Republicans who face competitive 
campaigns in 2022. The former president remains the most popular figure in GOP 
politics and is eager to remain engaged. Youngkin needs Trump's supporters to 
show up to the polls and can't risk giving the former president a reason to 
turn on him in the race's final weeks. But he must also avoid being tied too 
closely to someone who is unpopular in crucial swaths of the state, 
particularly the populated suburbs that surround Washington and Richmond.

   It's a delicate balancing act for Youngkin, who is locked in a tight race 
with Democrat Terry McAuliffe and steered clear of the Wednesday event. In 
addition to Fredericks, the rally was headlined by longtime Trump strategist 
Steve Bannon, who could soon find himself charged with contempt for refusing to 
cooperate with a House committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 storming of 
the Capitol. And it drew outrage after attendees recited the pledge of 
allegiance to a flag the emcee said had been flown that day, a move Youngkin 
later criticized.

   While the former president remains the most powerful force in the party nine 
months after leaving office, he lost Virginia by 10 points in 2020 and is 
viewed favorably by just 44% of likely voters in the state, according to a 
recent Fox News poll.

   If Trump were to hold a rally in the state, "it would be a disaster for 
Youngkin," said Bob Holsworth, a longtime local political analyst in the state. 
"This is a person who lost by 10 points in Virginia, lost in a landslide. He's 
extremely unpopular in Virginia. ... The more he shows up and he more he 
participates, the worse off it is for Youngkin."

   That risk was underscored by the reaction to Wednesday's event, where Trump 
praised Youngkin as "a great gentleman," while spreading lies about the 2020 
election.

   Democrats immediately pounced, condemning what they labeled "Donald Trump's 
insurrectionist rally." McAuliffe's campaign cut an ad featuring Trump's praise 
for Youngkin, while McAuliffe held a press conference to tear into his 
opponent, both broadly for his focus on "dangerous conspiracy theories" and for 
his initial silence on the event itself.

   Trump, for his part, also has little to gain by spending much more political 
capital on the race. If Youngkin wins, Trump is sure to try to take credit, 
citing his participation in Wednesday's rally, his May endorsement, and any 
future get out the vote efforts. But if Youngkin loses, Trump can blame him for 
not aligning himself more closely with the former president.

   Indeed, Trump recently had warned the candidate about straying too far 
during an interview with Fredericks.

   "The only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement," he 
said. "When they try and go down a railroad track, you know, 'Hey, oh yeah, 
sure, I love it, love it. Oh yeah, I love Trump, love Trump, OK, let's go, next 
subject.' When they do that, they never win. They never win. They have to 
embrace it."

   While Youngkin's campaign hasn't featured many big-name surrogates at his 
political events, McAuliffe has been summoning Democratic star power. President 
Joe Biden has already campaigned with McAuliffe and his campaign told The 
Associated Press this week that the president will return before the Nov. 2 
vote. First lady Jill Biden appeared with McAuliffe at a rally Friday and 
former President Barack Obama will campaign with him next week.

   Trump spokespeople did not respond to questions about the race, and 
Youngkin's campaign did not respond to questions about Trump.

   Youngkin has aimed his pitch more toward moderate and independent voters 
since winning his party's primary. During that campaign, Youngkin declined to 
say whether Biden was fairly elected. He has since said he believes he was -- 
and that he does not believe there was significant fraud last November.

   Instead of following in the mold of other blue-state Republican governors 
like Maryland's Larry Hogan and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Youngkin has 
run on a solidly conservative set of platforms, embracing some GOP culture war 
issues and promising to help reject the "left liberal progressive agenda" he 
says is shaping Virginia.

   After mostly pivoting away from his focus on election integrity in the 
nomination contest, he's centered campaign appearances and ads on issues like 
crime, taxes and school choice.

   Democrats have criticized him, though, for recent remarks about auditing the 
state's voting machines and for campaigning with state Sen. Amanda Chase, a 
prominent promoter of election falsehoods who's garnered the nickname "Trump in 
heels."

   Youngkin has also previously said Trump "represents so much of why I'm 
running."

   "What Youngkin is trying to do is he's attempting to maintain the MAGA base 
while absorbing the suburban defectors from the Democrats. And that's tough," 
said Holsworth,

   Fredericks said it was a winning strategy.

   "Here's why Glenn Youngkin is going to win: We're holding the Trump base 
together by a thread," he said. "Glenn Youngkin and this campaign has never 
abandoned the core principles that are important to Trump voters, not one day."

   Former Virginia governor, U.S. ambassador and GOP presidential candidate Jim 
Gilmore said Youngkin had done a good job of keeping the race tightly focused 
on his candidacy.

   "I think that nationalizing this campaign is not helpful to either of the 
candidates," he said.

   "Glenn's got to be his own man" and "run his own" race, agreed former U.S. 
Rep. Tom Davis, who represented northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District 
for 14 years.

   Davis said he thinks Virginia voters are more concerned about Biden, whose 
approval rating has slumped, than Trump. People voted for Biden "to get Donald 
Trump out of their living room," he said. "But they didn't vote for all this 
stuff that Biden's bringing with him. And I think they're going to pump the 
brakes."

   Several polls released since mid-September show a competitive race between 
McAuliffe and Youngkin. Some, including a recent poll by Fox News, suggest 
McAuliffe may have a slight advantage, though Youngkin remains within striking 
distance and some voters for both candidates said they may still change their 
minds.

 
 
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