Trump is posing a real threat to Biden in Virginia

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President Biden’s hold on Virginia appears to be slipping, spelling trouble for Democrats who’d felt confident about their standing in the state after winning every presidential contest there since former President Obama in 2008.

A Roanoke College survey this week showed Biden and former President Trump tied head to head in Virginia, with 42 percent each.

Other polls over the last month have shown Biden with a small lead, and Biden leads Trump in the Decision Desk HQ polling average, 44.1 percent to 43.1 percent.

Still, it’s a significant turnaround from 2020, when Biden won the state relatively handily. And it suggests Democrats could have their hands full this fall in Virginia, a state Biden cannot afford to lose.

“Biden is certainly not doing as well as he did in 2020, when he won Virginia by 10 percent. But he’s probably ahead by a few points at this time,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“If Virginia is even competitive in the fall, it’s a very bad sign for Biden since Virginia is more Democratic than many of the true swing states.”

Sabato said a number of factors could shake things up in the state, from Trump’s guilty verdict in his New York hush money trial, to the first debate between the two candidates later this month.

Democrats’ iron grip on the Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia has helped the party maintain control of Virginia in recent election cycles. Biden beat Trump in Virginia by nearly half a million votes four years ago, and Hillary Clinton scored a 5-point win over Trump in 2016. 

Strategists note that while the state is not a top swing state, it does have the potential to be competitive. 

“It’s on the outside looking in of the top battle grounds, but it’s right there on the doorstep,” said Zack Roday, a Virginia based GOP strategist. 

In 2021 Republicans scored major victories when Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) won the governor’s race and the House of Delegates majority flipped back to the GOP. 

But since 2021, Virginia Democrats have rebounded, scoring a number of special election victories and retaking full control of the General Assembly in 2023. 

Virginia-based Republican strategist Tucker Martin said he does not believe the state is in play for the GOP at the presidential level, and the close polling is more indicative of Biden’s weakness as a candidate. 

“Gravity ultimately wins Virginia for Biden,” said Martin, noting how the state’s population centers favor Democrats. “I don’t think they should take any comfort in that though because if they’re relying on political gravity to win states like Virginia, heaven help them in the battleground states.”

“If [Biden] is tied at 42 in Virginia then yeah, I would expect that he’s down in Wisconsin and Nevada and Michigan,” he added. 

The Trump campaign, on the other hand, contends Biden isn’t just weak in Virginia and the traditional battleground states, but also in historically Democratic strongholds like Minnesota and New Jersey. 

“Joe Biden is so weak, and Democrats are in such disarray, that not only is President Trump dominating in every traditional battleground state, but longtime blue states such as Minnesota, Virginia, and New Jersey are now in play,” said Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt. “President Trump is on offense with a winning message and growing his movement every single day. Joe Biden’s campaign should be terrified.” 

Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita told NBC News earlier this month Trump has “a real, real opportunity in expanding the map in Virginia and Minnesota.”

Still, some Republicans express skepticism. They note Trump won just less than 44 percent of the vote in Virginia in 2020 and just more than 44 percent in 2016, suggesting a ceiling for his support. 

“The number that matters is that he’s tied at 42,” Martin said, referring to the Roanoke College poll. “Until you see a poll that has him lets say at 47, 46, I don’t think the numbers are there for Trump. But again, this is not a state they need to have.” 

Biden is set to fundraise on June 18 in Virginia and will be joined by former President Clinton, bringing star power to a big donor event. The fundraiser will be hosted by former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who was defeated by Youngkin, in the Virginia suburbs of D.C.

The president’s campaign in May opened up a campaign office in Hampton, Va., a critical swing area north of Norfolk, to expand its Virginia outreach. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) joined the office opening, and the campaign at the time touted that Trump has “zero campaign presence in the commonwealth.”

With history on their side, Democrats are optimistic their stronghold in Virginia in the past few cycles will stay in November.

“One of the most under-reported stories in politics is that in the last twenty years, the Virginia Democratic Party has built the country’s most always-on, battle-ready political machine,” said Ivan Zapien, a former Democratic National Committee official. “Regardless of what the polls say, they are ready to deliver the state to Biden and Democrats up and down the ticket this year.”

Still, Republicans say that Biden’s lower than usual poll numbers in Virginia could force national Democrats to spend more money than they anticipated in the state. It also could put the state’s down-ballot Democrats, like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is favored to win his reelection bid, on alert. 

“You want to put these kinds of races away, both state and U.S. Senate early, because it’s always a resource game when you have this large of a map in a presidential year,” Roday said. 

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