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Here's what's at stake in Virginia's gubernatorial contest

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Terry McAuliffe,Glenn Youngkin
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, in Alexandria, Va., on Sept. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)Cliff Owen / AP

WASHINGTON — Virginia’s competitive gubernatorial race is now less than a month away, and here’s what’s at stake — issue-wise — for both parties as we look ahead to the 2022 midterms.

Does Covid remain a key rallying force for Democrats? We saw Dems lean into vaccine mandates and masks in the California recall, and they’re doing the same in Virginia.

In last week’s second and final debate, which one of us moderated, Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe went after GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin over the Republican’s opposition to a vaccine mandate.

“He has said, Day 1 as he's governor, masks off and no vaccination requirements,” McAuliffe said at the debate.

Youngkin countered, “I, in fact, have asked everyone in Virginia to please get the vaccine. But I don't think we should mandate it.”

Is abortion a liability for Republicans — or not? With the U.S. Supreme Court set set to hear a crucial case for the future of Roe v Wade this upcoming term, McAuliffe also has seized on Youngkin’s opposition to abortion rights — except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life.

“I would like to see Roe v. Wade enshrined in our [state] constitution because I'm scared of Donald Trump and the people like Glenn Youngkin,” McAuliffe said at the debate.

Youngkin said he is against having a right to an abortion added to the state’s constitution.

Can the GOP sidestep Trump? This race has Republican strategists hoping that Youngkin can pave a way for future GOP candidates to keep the former president at arm’s length when he’s not on the ballot.

“The Trump years were just terrible for Republicans in Virginia,” Tucker Martin, a GOP consultant who worked for former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, told NBC’s Henry Gomez and Alex Seitz-Wald. “He blotted out the sun. He made it impossible to get anybody's message across. Every campaign in the state was just a proxy vote on how you feel about Donald Trump, which, if you're in North Dakota, is a great deal for Republicans. If you're in Virginia? Horrible deal.”

“Glenn just benefits from there suddenly being oxygen again,” Martin added. “He can be himself. He can speak to voters. They’re listening.”

When one of us asked Youngkin if he’d support Trump in 2024, Youngkin replied, “Who knows who's gonna be runnin' for president in 2024” — before adding that he’s support Trump if he became the nominee.

Just how potent are race and schools in the suburbs? Finally, the Youngkin campaign has tried to peel off suburban voters by seizing on this line from McAuliffe in last week’s debate:

“I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

And Youngkin has been running ads on McAuliffe’s comment.

Democrats still have plenty of work to do on their reconciliation bill

What resulted from last week’s long hours, negotiations and conflict on Capitol Hill was that Democrats re-linked the infrastructure and reconciliation bills — with the Biden White House’s assistance.

But the reality of that re-linkage is that Democrats still don’t have a price tag for their reconciliation package, and they haven’t yet decided which programs stay and which ones don’t.

“This is a long and complicated process which is dealing with the most consequential piece of legislation probably since the New Deal in the Great Depression. It's a big deal. And it's not going to happen overnight,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

Added Cedric Richmond from the White House: “So when we say, ‘What do you want,’ do you want childcare? Do you want elder care? Do you want paid leave? Do you want to bring down the cost of prescription drugs? Do you want to expand Medicaid? Do you want to give tax breaks to working families in this country? When we say, ‘What do you want,’ that's what we mean. And so our job is to bring people together, shape this in terms of the needs that we're going to meet. And then we'll see what a price tag is.”

Bottom line: They still have plenty of work to do.

Biden to speak on raising the debt limit

And that work on reconciliation will is going to have come at the same time as Democrats and the Biden White House are working to raise the debt limit.

Today, as NBC’s Sahil Kapur reports, marks two weeks until the Treasury Department’s Oct. 18 deadline to extend or breach the debt limit.

And at 11:15 a.m. ET. President Biden will deliver remarks on the need to raise the debt limit.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

126,000: How many gallons of oil appear to have spilled from an offshore oil pipeline off the coast of Orange County, California this past weekend.

4.38: The carat-weight of a yellow diamond a California woman found at Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park.

100,000: About how many people have gone missing in Mexico since 1964.

43,716,330: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 203,016 more since Friday morning.)

705,885: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 3,524 more since Friday morning.)

395,934,825: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 3,024,830 more since Friday morning.)

55.9 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

67.2 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

5,287,357: The number of fully vaccinated people who have received a booster dose.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Supreme Court term starts Monday, where Justices plan to take up major issues like abortion, gun rights and affirmative action.

Fumio Kishida is the new prime minister of Japan.

Johnson & Johnson plans to request authorization to offer a Covid booster shot to those who have already received the first dose of the vaccine, the New York Times reports.

A new trove of documents, nicknamed the “Pandora Papers,” are the latest to catalogue the hidden wealth of influential politicians, government officials and more around the globe.