Is Joe Biden Actually In Trouble In Virginia?

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign isn’t taking any chances in Virginia. The campaign has opened six field offices in the state, with more on the way. It’s organized nearly a dozen grassroots events engaging Black voters and is doing the same now for older voters, using the allure of ice cream and pickleball.

A recent Fox News poll suggested, however, that Biden and Donald Trump are tied in Virginia five months out from the election — a worrisome sign for Biden in a state no Democratic presidential candidate has lost since 2004. Trump’s campaign has even bragged it sees an opportunity to expand its electoral map into blue territory including Virginia.

One Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, admitted “things are tight” in Virginia, while still dismissing a Trump win there as highly unlikely.

But other Virginia Democrats and allies of the Biden campaign are downplaying the idea that Biden might be at all vulnerable in a state he won by over 10 percentage points four years ago. If Biden is actually in trouble in Virginia come November, it would mean he has much bigger problems everywhere else.

As I recall, Virginia always breaks Republicans’ hearts.Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

“The Biden team is very confident, but it’s also clear they’re not taking anything for granted. That’s why they have a strong operation on the ground. That’s why they’re building out staff,” said Christina Freundlich, a Democratic strategist who’s worked on a number of Virginia campaigns.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is up for reelection this year and benefits from having a strong Biden campaign presence in the state, said he isn’t worried about Biden losing.

“I’ve seen other polls that say it’s not so close,” Kaine told HuffPost. “Maybe it’s not a 10-point race like it was four years ago, but Biden’s in pretty good shape. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that that’s the case.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was even skeptical that Trump could pull off a win.

“As I recall, Virginia always breaks Republicans’ hearts,” he said. “But there seems to be a pretty big lack of enthusiasm on the side of the Democrats and the Biden campaign, and then a lot of enthusiasm by President Trump and his supporters.”

The Fox News poll still underscores Biden’s overall polling weakness in some swing states as voters fret over the economy and inflation, immigration and border security, and the reality of an 81-year-old nominee — even when another option is a 77-year-old former president just convicted of falsifying business records to direct hush money payments to a porn star.

“If the state is actually really close in November, there isn’t going to be much drama about the overall result — Trump should be very heavily favored in a situation like that,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Kondik said it’s not unusual for polls this far ahead of the election to reflect a reality that doesn’t materialize in November. “It’s not uncommon to see close polls in states that ultimately don’t end up that close — that happened in Iowa and Ohio, for instance, in 2020, including much closer to the election than we are now,” he said.

Joe Biden's campaign is aggressively building out its operation in Virginia amid concerns — that allies downplay — about a close race in the state.
Joe Biden's campaign is aggressively building out its operation in Virginia amid concerns — that allies downplay — about a close race in the state. MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images

At a private donor retreat last month, Trump’s campaign brandished internal polling that showed Trump’s relative strength in Minnesota and Virginia, states where he lost by 7 and 10 points, respectively, in 2020. Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, though there doesn’t seem to be evidence that Trump’s campaign has used its internal data as a basis for building out a campaign operation in either state.

Following the release of the Fox News poll that had Biden and Trump in a dead heat at 48% in Virginia, the state’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin told the network that polls showing a close race reflect “not only the strength that President Trump would bring to the presidency, but the weakness that Joe Biden has demonstrated.”

Virginia has been trending blue since Barack Obama flipped it in 2008. But in 2021, Youngkin, running at a distance from Trump on a “parental rights” platform post-pandemic, eked out a win against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. After the election, Youngkin aligned himself more closely with Trump and MAGA Republicans.

Democrats bounced back two years later, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s rollback of abortion rights, flipping control of the Virginia House of Delegates and defending its state Senate majority despite Youngkin’s aggressive campaigning for Republicans.

“In the end, Virginia won’t be the 270th electoral vote. Trump won’t win it. Not with suburban, college-educated, diverse voters,” said the Democratic strategist who requested anonymity.

These types of voters were critical to recent Democratic victories, especially in the northern suburbs outside Washington. Biden held a rally there in January with Vice President Kamala Harris where they blamed Trump for laying the groundwork for the federal appeal of abortion rights and the resulting tide of extreme anti-abortion laws across the country. Democrats are hoping their focus on abortion rights will keep voters in their column who flipped from Trump to Biden four years ago.

“Virginians have rejected Trump every time he’s run here, and his MAGA allies were soundly defeated last year after they campaigned on his agenda of banning abortion across the Commonwealth,” Biden’s Virginia state director, Jake Rubenstein, said in a statement. “We’re mobilizing voters in every corner of Virginia and looking forward to beating Trump for a third time in November.”

The results from Virginia’s GOP presidential primary in March may also bode well for Biden’s campaign: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley performed strongly against Trump, winning 35% of the vote to Trump’s 63%. In Northern Virginia, Haley actually beat Trump outright.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), who has represented Northern Virginia in various offices for three decades, said he’s witnessed firsthand the area turning from red to blue, due partly to the influx of government workers from Washington. “Remember that we voted 44 consecutive years for Republican presidential candidates until 2008. And then we voted for Barack Hussein Obama, in Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy,” Connolly said.

“I do believe it’s close right now. There’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Connolly said of the presidential race in Virginia. “But I believe a lot of Virginians have benefited from the Biden economy, and they know that and they appreciate that and they’re going to vote on that.”

Susan Swecker, the chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, noted how Biden’s campaign is operating much differently than how it was forced to campaign in 2020 during the pandemic. “We had Dr. Biden and Doug Emhoff, but they were outside and you were at a distance,” Swecker said, referencing the first lady and second gentleman. “We did what we could. … We learned a lot of lessons about outreach then, and some of them were key.”

Jared Leopold, a Democratic strategist and former spokesperson for the Democratic Party in Virginia, said Democrats shouldn’t discount the work they have to do in Virginia.

“Virginia is blueish purple. It’s not going to be the tipping point state, but it’s certainly not a state you want to sleep on,” he said.