Jill Biden travels to Virginia, New Jersey to help Democrats

Virginia Election McAuliffe

HENRICO, Va. (AP) — First lady Jill Biden campaigned Friday for Democrats in governors' races in Virginia and New Jersey, saying "this election will set a course for a year from now” during her first political trip of her husband's presidency.

Biden spoke at an early voting rally at Middlesex College in Edison, New Jersey, where Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is running against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, an ex-state Assembly member. She also hit an evening event in suburban Richmond, Virginia, alongside Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor who is running to regain the post and facing a tighter race than expected against Republican Glenn Youngkin, a businessman.

“We can’t get complacent. We have to get to work,” the first lady, who was born in New Jersey and clapped on stage to “It’s My Life,” by New Jersey icon and President Biden supporter Jon Bon Jovi, told the crowd in Edison. The loudest applause of the event came when Jill Biden joked, “Heck, today’s Friday. So go grab a beer and go vote.”

Democrats, eager to boost turnout for the off-year elections, dispatched the first lady to rally support in the Nov. 2 governors' races. It marks the first time that Biden has been back on the campaign trial since stumping for her husband in last year’s presidential campaign, and it underscores the political stakes for the White House.

In Virginia especially, which President Joe Biden won by a comfortable 10 percentage points last year, a defeat in the governor's race could spell trouble for Democrats in the 2022 midterms, when control of Congress is at risk of flipping to Republicans. The president’s approval ratings have fallen to some of the lowest levels of his White House tenure amid congressional fights over infrastructure and voting rights.

The first lady capped her trip by addressing a crowd of about 300 at a grassroots mobilizing rally outside a recreation center in Henrico, Virginia. She was twice interrupted by protesters who appeared to be decrying federal fossil fuel subsidies, and she said, laughing, "You’ve gotta love democracy.”

“Virginia, you need somebody that you can trust, and that's Terry McAuliffe,” Biden said. She warned of misinformation becoming more prevalent online with Election Day looming, adding, “There are a lot of people who like to twist the words around. But we know Terry. We know his heart."

McAuliffe called Biden “my very good friend” and said, “I cannot tell you how much is at stake in this election.” He called Youngkin a “want-a-be” of former President Donald Trump.

Acknowledging the stakes, President Biden noted Friday to reporters while traveling in Connecticut: “Now, look, I think everybody understandably reads the two gubernatorial off-year elections as being a bellwether of what may happen. Sometimes it’s been right; sometimes it’s been wrong.”

He continued: “I think Terry is going to win. If he doesn’t win, I don’t know how much you read into that, but, you know, I -- well, I think he’ll win.”

McAuliffe said Biden would be visiting Virginia in the coming days, as are former President Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate who has risen to national prominence.