Jill Biden hits campaign trail Friday in Virginia, New Jersey

First lady parachutes into campaign trail to help fellow Democrats, especially in close race for Virginia governor

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First lady Jill Biden heads out on the campaign trail on Friday in support of the Democratic nominees in the only two states in the nation to hold gubernatorial elections this November.

The first lady teams up Friday afternoon with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy at an early voting rally at Middlesex College in Edison. Later in the day she’ll join former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at a campaign event in the suburbs outside of Richmond, the state’s capital city. 

While Murphy enjoys a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli in the reliably blue Garden State, McAuliffe is facing a much stiffer challenge against Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin in the commonwealth, a one-time premier battleground state that’s trended toward the Democrats the past decade but remains competitive.

WHAT A BRAND NEW FOX NEWS POLL SHOWS IN THE VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL SHOWDOWN

McAuliffe, who’s running for his old job, holds a 51%-46% advantage over Youngkin among likely Virginia voters in a Fox News poll conducted Sunday through Wednesday and released Thursday. And an average of all of the latest surveys in the race indicate a razor-thin, lower-single-digit edge for McAuliffe in a state where the GOP hasn’t won a statewide election in a dozen years.

The latest surveys in the state also indicate that Republican voters are more motivated than their Democratic counterparts. And McAuliffe's invited top surrogates to Virginia as he puts on a full-court press to get Democrats to cast ballots in the current early voting period or to go to the polls on Election Day.

Enter the first lady.

"She brings an experienced voice on issues that resonate with a lot of voters," former longtime Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire Kathy Sullivan told Fox News. "She’s a very good surrogate with respect to generating the votes of suburban women. She speaks to their values, she speaks to their family issues, education issues, that are all very important to suburban female voters."

Sullivan also pointed out the "the first lady is also very well known for her work with military families, and you find a lot of military families in Virginia."

While Jill Biden, a longtime community college professor, has traveled across the country in support of her education initiatives, reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, and urging Americans to get the COVID vaccine, this is the first lady’s first foray on the campaign trail since last year.

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But Jill Biden’s no stranger to campaign politics. While then-first lady Melania Trump remained mostly absent from the campaign trail during the 2020 presidential general election, Jill Biden was a regular at rallies and other events on behalf of her husband. And she captured headlines and won praise for stiff-arming a protester who rushed at then-former Vice President Biden at a campaign event in March of last year during the Democratic presidential primaries.

A protester at left, is held back by Jill Biden, center, and her husband, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, during a primary election night rally Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A protester at left, is held back by Jill Biden, center, and her husband, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, during a primary election night rally Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (AP)

First ladies have become more frequent visitors to the campaign trail in recent decades. Laura Bush and Michelle Obama – who at times enjoyed higher favorability ratings than their husbands – often stumped for candidates of their political parties during their tenures as first ladies.

"Just as the role women have changed, so to the role of the first lady has changed, and that’s a good thing," Sullivan noted.

PRESIDENT BIDEN, DESPITE FLAGGING POLL NUMBERS, HEADING TO VIRGINIA CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Jill Biden’s Friday campaign swing in New Jersey and Virginia comes as President Biden’s approval ratings have taken a big hit since the beginning of August. The drop in the president’s numbers was fueled by criticism of his handling of the turbulent U.S. exit from Afghanistan, the surge in COVID-19 cases this summer mainly among unvaccinated people due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, and the latest surge of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. along the southern border with Mexico.

The president’s approval ratings in Virginia have also deteriorated. The new Fox News poll indicated Virginians divided on the job he is doing as president and on his favorability in a state he won by 10 points in last November’s presidential election. 

McAuliffe, in a recent video conference clip that Republicans spotlighted, acknowledged that "we are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know. The president is unpopular today, unfortunately here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through."

But during an education roundtable in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday, McAuliffe told reporters that the president will return to the commonwealth, telling reporters, "He'll be coming back. You bet he will."

The president last teamed up with McAuliffe on the campaign trail in late July in the voter-rich and heavily Democratic Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. 

McAuliffe announced earlier this week that former President Obama  will campaign with the former governor in Richmond a week from Saturday, on Oct. 23. Even after nearly five years removed from the White House, the former two-term president remains very popular and influential with voters in his own party. 

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And McAuliffe will team up on the campaign trail this weekend with voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House Democratic leader who in 2018 made history as the first Black female gubernatorial nominee of a major political party.

"We’re at a point in the election where this is about getting your people out to vote," veteran Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin, who ran communications for McAuliffe’s successful 2013 gubernatorial campaign, told Fox News.