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Tight Virginia governor’s race tests Biden’s strength

Election 2021 Virginia Governor

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin gestures as he speaks to supporters during a rally in Chesterfield, Va., Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The first major test of how voters feel about Joe Biden’s presidency is unfolding in Virginia, where a governor’s race that was supposed to be a comfortable win for Democrats is instead ending in suspense.

Terry McAuliffe , one of the most prominent figures in Democratic politics and a former Virginia governor, is in a tight race Tuesday for his old job against Republican rival and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin . The bruising, costly campaign has centered on issues including Youngkin’s ties to former President Donald Trump, the future of abortion rights and culture war battles over schools.

But the results may ultimately be interpreted as an early judgment of Biden. A year after he captured Virginia by 10 percentage points, the competitive nature of the governor’s race is a sign of how his political fortunes have changed. The White House has been shaken in recent months by the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a sometimes sluggish economic recovery amid the pandemic and a legislative agenda at risk of stalling on Capitol Hill.

A loss in a state that has trended toward Democrats for more than a decade would deepen the sense of alarm inside the party heading into next year’s midterm elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

“Tomorrow will be a statement. A statement that will be heard across this country,” Youngkin told a large crowd that chanted “USA! USA!” during his final rally Monday night. “The future of this commonwealth, the future of this country is going to be decided.”

McAuliffe countered that a GOP win would roll back all the progress his own party had made and would buoy Trump and his talk of 2024. “Folks, the stakes are huge,” McAuliffe said, adding of Youngkin, "He doesn’t know anything about governance.”

At the polls on Tuesday morning, Cassandra Ogren, 29, of Norfolk, said she had voted for McAuliffe in part because of his support for abortion rights and her concern about restrictions recently enacted in Texas.

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