Terry McAuliffe's Latest Move Is One of Pure Panic

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

With polls in Virginia now showing Republican Glenn Youngkin leading the gubernatorial race, there’s a sense of panic emanating from the Terry McAuliffe campaign.

At one point earlier in the month, I believe McAuliffe felt he had the ability to go ahead and sew things up, especially given Virginia’s heavy blue lean. That strategy included bringing in Barack Obama, Stacey Abrams, and Joe Biden to rally support. But Virginia is an odd state that has seen wild electoral fluctuations over the last decade.

After it became clear his blitz of big-name Democrats had failed, the desperation only got worse. That culminated yesterday in a disgusting stunt yesterday to paint Youngkin as a white supremacist that The Lincoln Project has taken credit for (though, no one should buy there wasn’t coordination).

But perhaps the biggest piece of evidence yet that McAuliffe is in the midst of a last-second panic has been revealed. After months of making his entire campaign about Donald Trump, the Democrat is now saying the race isn’t about Donald Trump.

Terry McAuliffe claimed on Saturday that the Virginia gubernatorial election is “not about Trump” — even though the Democratic gubernatorial candidate has invoked the former Republican President perhaps more than any other political figure.

The comment, which belies the fact that tying Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin to Trump has been a central political strategy for McAuliffe since the start of the campaign, represents a significant shift for the Democrat just days before Tuesday’s election and on the final day of early voting in Virginia.

Here’s the thing with “significant shift(s).” No campaign makes them within days of an election — unless they definitively believe that they are losing.

McAuliffe has made Trump a centerpiece of his campaign, and that’s been a theme repeated by everyone involved. Joe Biden, for example, mentioned Trump well over a dozen times during his stump speech for the gubernatorial candidate. In just the past few days, McAuliffe has referenced Trump and his movement multiple times in trying to quell the damage he’s done with the parents of school-age children in Virginia.

So for him, at this incredibly late hour, to try to reset his campaign to be about real issues and not screaming “Trump” over and over is a big red flag. What’s ironic is that had he made this move earlier, it may have actually paid dividends and carried him to victory. As I mentioned, Virginia leans blue, with Biden carrying the state by 10 points just a year ago. All McAuliffe had to do was be sane, talk about improving the economy, and not make parents the enemy.

That’s not what happened, though. Instead, he went scorched earth as an insider politician ranting about MAGA, while Youngkin beat the ground on issues voters care about. McAuliffe’s strategic blunder will not be rectified by an eleventh-hour shift in messaging. With early voting and Youngkin seeing so much enthusiasm, the cake is largely baked going into Tuesday.

The only question is whether Virginia’s partisan lean will be enough to save the Democrat. We’ll all find out soon enough.