IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Virginia governor's race is shaping up as choice between change and Trump

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.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks at a campaign event on June 4, 2021, in Charlottesville.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks at a campaign event on June 4, 2021, in Charlottesville.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON —This year's competitive gubernatorial race in Virginia will likely come down to answers to these two questions.

One, just how potent is Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin's change message? (“It’s going to take an outsider, a new kind of leader to bring a new day to Virginia,” Youngkin says in his heavily played TV ad.)

And two, is Trump still a powerful — and galvanizing — issue for Democrats and nominee Terry McAuliffe? (“Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican. He is a loyalist to Donald Trump,” goes a new McAuliffe digital ad.)

On change, the GOP is gambling that past Covid-19 restrictions, closed schools and increased prices will have Virginia voters wanting a new direction, especially when its competition is McAuliffe, the state’s former governor and a longtime party insider.

The danger for this change/outsider message is if schools remain open and the economy is humming by the fall.

In fact, Democratic voters went with the status quo when they overwhelmingly picked McAuliffe in last week’s crowded primary.

On Trump, Democrats are betting that Youngkin won’t be able to thread the needle in wooing suburban voters across the state, while also holding on to Trump’s base voters in rural parts of the state – especially in a state the former president lost by 10 points a year ago.

“I don't think Trump has the courage to come back to Virginia,” McAuliffe told one us in an interview last week, trying to goad the former president to get involved in the race.

But by this fall, will Trump — who’s out of office and off of Twitter — still be able to motivate voters, particularly younger and more progressive voters who weren’t exactly thrilled that McAuliffe ran for another term?

“Talking about Trump in 2021 is really stale and won’t be enough to win swing voters,” Ben Tribbett, a Virginia-based Democratic strategist, told the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin.

Make no mistake: Polling shows that this race won’t be a cakewalk for Democrats, even as they’ve won 13 of the state’s last 14 major contests (for president, senator and governor) since 2005.

And it likely will come down to which message is stronger — change or Trump? — in a state that’s become bluer in the last two decades.

Pressing Putin

Ahead of President Biden’s meeting tomorrow with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, NBC’s Keir Simmons sat down with Russia’s leader. Some highlights from the exclusive interview:

On charges that Russia is behind the cyberattacks that have targeted U.S. businesses and industries: “‘We have been accused of all kinds of things,’ Putin said. ‘Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.’”

On jailed political rival Alexei Navalny: Putin “denied ordering a hit on [Navalny], but … he did not guarantee that the jailed Kremlin critic, who survived being poisoned with a nerve agent, would get out of prison alive. ‘Look, such decisions in this country are not made by the president,’ Putin said.”

On Biden’s criticism that Russia’s policies have led to global instability: Putin “accused the U.S. of doing the same in Libya, Afghanistan and Syria… He even pointed to the arrests of hundreds of suspects in the U.S. Capitol riot and the death of one rioter as proof that the U.S. also targets its citizens for their political opinions, just as Russia is accused of stifling dissent.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

12 consecutive years: Bibi Netanyahu’s last stint in power before his ouster on Sunday by a new coalition in Israel.

Over 1 billion: The number of vaccine doses pledged by G-7 leaders to poorer countries around the world.

90 percent: The reported efficacy of a new Novavax vaccine.

33,616,383: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 25,271 more than Friday morning.)

603,309: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 773 more than Friday morning.)

309,322,545: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

39.9 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per NBC News.

54.1 percent: The share of all American adults over 18 who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Biden says he agrees that U.S.-Russian relations are at a “low point.”

Sahil Kapur writes about the power Mitch McConnell still wields over the Democratic Senate.

There’s an infrastructure deal among a 10-member bipartisan Senate group. But what exactly happens next?

Rep. Tom Rice is a conservative Republican who voted to impeach Trump. Now, the Washington Post writes, that vote may have imperiled his career.

How hard would it actually be to add another star to the U.S. flag if D.C. achieves statehood?

The New York Times interviews Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

POLITICO writes that Trump’s team is making sure that GOP candidates don’t try to imply a Trump endorsement that’s not official.