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Obama calls Virginia governor's race a turning point for the nation

Barack Obama has hit the campaign train for Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat candidate for Virginia governor, tearing into his GOP opponent as the race enters its final days with polls in a dead heat.

Obama and McAuliffe, who served as the state's governor from 2014 to 2018, spoke before a cheering crowd at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond with just 10 days to go before the November 2 election, the most closely watched race of the year.

The election pitting McAuliffe against Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin has major implications for President Joe Biden's agenda as well as next year's midterms, which will determine which party controls Congress. 

Obama told the crowd the Virginia election represented a national 'turning point,' where Americans could either become more embattled in the 'divisive' politics of the Trump era, or 'pull together' to 'solve big problems.' 

Barack Obama has hit the campaign train for Terry McAuliffe (with him above), the Democrat candidate for Virginia governor, tearing into his GOP opponent as the race enters its final days with polls in a dead heat

Former President Barack Obama, right, gives an elbow bump to Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe during a rally in Richmond, Virginia on Saturday

Obama told the crowd the Virginia election represented a national 'turning point,' where Americans could either become more embattled in the 'divisive' politics of the Trump era, or 'pull together' to 'solve big problems'

Obama accused Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin (above) of portraying himself as a friendly everyman while encouraging what Obama called 'lies and conspiracy theories' about widespread voting fraud in the 2020 elections

'I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts,' Obama said. 

'We're not going to go back to the chaos that did so much damage. We're going to move forward with people like Terry leading the way.' 

Obama accused Youngkin of portraying himself as a friendly everyman while encouraging what Obama called 'lies and conspiracy theories' about widespread voting fraud in the 2020 elections. 

 Donald Trump has continued to push false claims that he was cheated out of winning the election, which fueled the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

'As far as I can tell, the big message of Terry's opponent is that he's a regular guy because he wears a fleece. And he's accusing schools of brainwashing our kids,' Obama said.

'He's also said he wanted to audit the voting machines used in the last presidential election again. Really? Encouraging the lies and conspiracy theories that we've had to live through all this time? And yeah, we're supposed to believe he's going to stand up for our democracy?'

Obama said of Younkin: 'Either he actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn´t believe it but he is willing to go along with it, to say or do anything to get elected. And maybe that's worse ... because that says something about character.'

'We're not going to go back to the chaos that did so much damage. We're going to move forward with people like Terry leading the way,' said Obama

Obama said of Younkin: 'Either he actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn´t believe it but he is willing to go along with it, to say or do anything to get elected'

The election pitting McAuliffe against Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin has major implications for President Joe Biden's agenda and next year's midterms, which will determine which party controls Congress

'As far as I can tell, the big message of Terry's opponent is that he's a regular guy because he wears a fleece. And he's accusing schools of brainwashing our kids,' Obama said on Youngkin (above)

Youngkin, a former private equity executive and a first-time candidate, initially made 'election integrity' the centerpiece of his campaign and refused for months to say whether Biden was legitimately elected. He has since said that Biden was, and that there was not widespread fraud in last year's elections.

Asked for comment, a Youngkin campaign spokesman called Obama's remarks 'false statements' and accused the media of 'indulging the fantasies of the Terry and the left because they can't run on their failed record and radical vision for the future.'

The Youngkin campaign has said election security is a bipartisan concern and has tried to draw a comparison between the false claims of fraud today and the 2000 presidential election, when a Supreme Court ruling decided the winner and McAuliffe blasted the decision and said the election had been stolen.

Obama described McAuliffe, who was term limited from running for a consecutive term in 2018, as an experienced, steady hand and told a crowd of about 2,000 people the election would 'show the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts.'

The former president said he understood voters are worn down, both from the country's divisive politics and the strain of the pandemic. But he said there's too much at stake to not cast a ballot.

'I'm here today because I believe Virginia will make the right choice. I believe America, ultimately, will make the right choice,' Obama told the crowd of a few hundred cheering supporters.

'I believe you right here in Virginia are going to show the rest of the country, and the world, that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts. We're not going to go back to the past that did so much damage, we're going to move forward with people like Terry leading the way.'

'We don´t have time to be tired. What is required is sustained effort,' he said.

Asked for comment, a Youngkin campaign spokesman called Obama's remarks 'false statements' and accused the media of 'indulging the fantasies of the Terry and the left because they can't run on their failed record and radical vision for the future'

Obama described McAuliffe as an experienced, steady hand and told a crowd of about 2,000 people the election would 'show the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts'

'I believe you right here in Virginia are going to show the rest of the country, and the world, that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts. We're not going to go back to the past that did so much damage,' said Obama

The first genuinely competitive election since Biden took office is expected to be a harbinger of the national political landscape ahead of next year's midterm elections.

Wedged between the Washington suburbs in northern Virginia, a Democratic stronghold, and the state's conservative south and southwest, Richmond could go either way.

McAuliffe, 64, has tried to make the race a referendum on twice-impeached Trump.

Youngkin, 10 years younger, has focused on the fight over schools, with Republicans railing against mask mandates and running ads showing McAuliffe saying he doesn't want parents involved in education.

The McAuliffe camp fears turnout among supporters in an off-year election may be low and has brought in some of the party's heavy hitters in the final stretch, including First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

And Joe Biden will appear at a rally with McAuliffe Tuesday night in Arlington, Virginia - one of Washington, D.C.'s heavily blue suburbs. 

Biden won Virginia by 10 points in 2020 and the last time Republicans won a statewide race there was 2009.

But the McAuliffe-Youngkin battle has been tightening, with a survey released this week by Monmouth University showing the Democrat's earlier lead evaporating.

A McAuliffe win would boost Washington Democrats' push for twin infrastructure and social welfare mega-bills that are the cornerstone of Biden's vision for remaking the economy.

But a loss could spook moderates in Congress, who are already already nervous over the high price tag, which they are trying to chisel down from a combined total of almost $5 trillion to around $3 trillion.

A McAuliffe win would boost Washington Democrats' push for twin infrastructure and social welfare mega-bills that are the cornerstone of Biden's vision for remaking the economy

But a McAuliffe loss could spook moderates in Congress, who are already already nervous over the high price tag, which they are trying to chisel down from a combined total of almost $5 trillion to around $3 trillion

Opinion polls show McAuliffe, 64, and Republican Glenn Youngkin, 54, nearly tied. A poll this week by Monmouth University showed Youngkin had closed McAuliffe's 5-point lead since September

McAuliffe told the crowd on Saturday the election was too important to sit out, with several key issues on the ballot.

'This election is about the next chapter of Virginia and our country. ... It's about leading us out of this pandemic, keeping our economy strong, protecting voter rights, protecting abortion rights and so much more,' he said.

Opinion polls show McAuliffe, 64, and Republican Glenn Youngkin, 54, nearly tied. A poll this week by Monmouth University showed Youngkin had closed McAuliffe's 5-point lead since September by gaining ground with independent and women voters.

Youngkin's strength in the polls during the first weeks of early voting has worried Democrats, who anticipated a comfortable lead in a state that has trended blue in recent years. Democrats flipped the Virginia legislature in 2019 and Trump lost the state by 10 percentage points in November 2020, double his margin of defeat in 2016.

Melody Pearce, 50, a clinical nurse investigator who attended Saturday's rally for McAuliffe, said the polls made her nervous.

'After the election of President Biden I thought we would be able to exhale for a minute,' she said. 'I'm afraid people will not come out to vote and lose enthusiasm.'

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison told reporters at Saturday's event he was confident that Virginians would go to the polls and deliver a victory for McAuliffe.

'At the end of the day, it's about turnout,' he said. 'If we get the Democrats to turn out, we win.'

The McAuliffe camp fears turnout among supporters in an off-year election may be low and has brought in some of the party's heavy hitters in the final stretch, including First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin signs a Donald Trump Halloween mask for a young supporter during a meet and greet at a sports bar in Chesapeake earlier this month

The McAuliffe-Youngkin battle has been tightening, with a survey released this week by Monmouth University showing the Democrat's earlier lead evaporating

Republican enthusiasm in the race has been outpacing that of Democrats, the poll found

The serving governor, Ralph Northam, a Democrat, cannot seek re-election because the state bars governors from serving consecutive terms. McAuliffe can run because he left office in 2018.

Both candidates for governor have dug into hotly contested cultural issues to stir up voter engagement, including abortion rights and how schools address the topics of race and racism with students.

McAuliffe has sought to paint Youngkin as a far-right extremist and align him with Trump, who has endorsed the Republican candidate.

In turn, Youngkin has suggested that McAuliffe is trying to advance a far-left agenda. A former private equity executive, Youngkin has focused in part on education - especially the right of parents to have a say in their children's schooling - which has proven popular with suburban women, a key demographic.

Youngkin has walked a fine line between welcoming Trump's endorsement and distancing himself from the former president's false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Obama condemned Youngkin on Saturday for walking that line, and said it reflected poorly on his character.

'Either he actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn't believe it but he's willing to go along with it to say or do anything to get elected. And maybe that's worse,' Obama said.

Last week, Youngkin dissociated himself from a rally held to support him, which was headlined by longtime Trump aide Steve Bannon and Trump himself, who spoke by phone. At the event, attendees pledged allegiance to a flag that event leaders said was present on Jan. 6 when Trump supporters led an assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Youngkin issued a statement saying it was 'weird and wrong' to pledge allegiance to a flag with Jan. 6 connections.