Terry McAuliffe election anxiety manifesting in media dustups, campaign cash scrounging

Terry McAuliffe can’t seem to catch a break.

Even the most innocuous interactions on the campaign trail are creating headaches for the Democrat as he looks to regain his footing in the Virginia gubernatorial race against Republican Glenn Youngkin that his party fears could be slipping away.

The McAuliffe campaign was caught Wednesday in a tit-for-tat with WJLA news in Washington over a television anchor’s assertion that he “abruptly” left an interview.

The McAuliffe campaign said the station was misleading voters and he had fulfilled his agreement for a 10-minute interview.

Nonetheless, it amounted to another unwanted distraction for Mr. McAuliffe and more chum in the water for Mr. Youngkin and other Republicans, who accused the Democrat of “losing it.”

Mr. McAuliffe hopes to get his campaign back on track with a Virginia visit from Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday and a stump speech from former President Barack Obama in Richmond this weekend.

Mr. Obama is featured in a McAuliffe ad that started airing Wednesday.

“Virginia, you have a lot of responsibility this year,” Mr. Obama says in the “Our Values” ad. “Not only choosing our next governor, but you are also making a statement about what direction we are heading in as a country. I know Terry McAuliffe, and I can tell you as governor no one worked harder for their state.”

The spot coincided with the release of a Monmouth University poll that showed Mr. Youngkin gaining ground and the race in a dead heat.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said Mr. McAuliffe is likely concerned about how close his numbers are to those of Mr. Youngkin, a businessman and first-time political candidate.

“It’s basically a tie, and if I was looking at it from the McAuliffe point of view, I would be concerned about the polling because it shows that Youngkin is doing better among the most ardent and committed voters,” Mr. Bannon said.

In recent weeks, Mr. McAuliffe has made a series of blunders, including comments in the last debate that parents shouldn’t have input in Virginia public schools.

Mr. Youngkin’s campaign quickly weaponized the comments into a campaign coalition dubbed Parents Matter, which mobilized concerned voters with school-age children to turn out for the Republican.

Mr. McAuliffe walked back comments he made in a teleconference call griping about President Biden and congressional Democrats.

The candidate said the stalemate on Capitol Hill and Mr. Biden’s lack of popularity in Virginia were “headwinds” in his campaign, though he later clarified that he didn’t think that was the case.

“It’s not dragging me down,” Mr. McAuliffe told CNN. “I worry about the people of Virginia.”

McAuliffe voters have expressed concern about the lack of action by Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress. Analysts say the standstill has become a roadblock in Mr. McAuliffe’s run in Virginia.

“It doesn’t help McAuliffe if the Democrats are not getting something done that they promised to get done at the national level,” said Jim Thurber, a government professor at American University. “He’s getting punished for it.”

Mr. McAuliffe’s anxieties have been manifesting in campaign emails asking for small-dollar donations and warning of a potential loss come Election Day.

“I’m scared to death right now,” said the subject of an email signed by political strategist James Carville.

Another email signed by Mr. Carville asked for donations after a Trafalgar poll showed Mr. Youngkin with a 1-point lead over Mr. McAuliffe.

“I don’t usually get worked up about a single poll, but this Trafalgar poll showing Glenn Youngkin with a 48.5 to 47.5 lead over Terry has me losing my damn mind,” the email read.

Mr. Thurber said any benefit is good for Mr. McAuliffe at this point in the race, whether it be donations or the slew of high-profile Democrats set to campaign with the candidate in the coming week.

“Everything helps, especially the money, and that he’s linked Youngkin with Trump,” he said.

Mr. McAuliffe is hoping the visits from Ms. Harris and Mr. Obama will help boost voter turnout, particularly among voters of color, whom the Youngkin campaign has sought.

Kerry Picket contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters