It’s Election Day in Virginia as voters go to the polls to elect their next governor. It’s a close race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe, Democrat former Governor of Virginia.
The question voters will answer today: if Republicans are successful in turning Virginia—now blue and formerly purple—red, what does it mean for Democrats across the country? What if McAuliffe is victorious by a narrow margin?
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It is true that a Youngkin victory or a small-margin McAuliffe success will have the exact same effect on my party.
First, let’s take a look at the numbers. Except for one poll from Fox that shows Youngkin with an eight percent lead, we haven’t seen any movement in the numbers for Youngkin. The most recent poll by the Washington Post Shar School survey shows McAuliffe up by one percent—and that might be all the former governor needs to win this very tight race.
California is where I reside. Polls show that there was a close race for recall between Governor. Gavin Newsom was defeated by Larry Elder, a radio talk-show host. Newsom prevailed by a wide margin.
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To be clear, the Virginia race isn’t a recall. Virginia certainly isn’t California. And the candidates couldn’t be more different.
However, there are similarities. In California, Democrats were concerned that the Republican party was enjoying more support, which is the exact same concern we have in Virginia. Second, early voting shows a Democrat advantage—more than a million people have voted early and McAuliffe is currently up by about 300,000 votes. Election Day will show the strength and weakness of Youngkin’s campaign, but it could swing the tide.
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McAuliffe has made this race about former President Donald Trump and Youngkin’s alleged similarities. That’s forced Youngkin to try a balancing act: attempting to please the Trump supporters while distancing himself from the former president. Youngkin could be affected by Trump’s appearance. One poll in Virginia found that voters hate Trump more than President Joe Biden.
In past years, Virginia Republicans have had a greater turnout in elections that are not held in the regular year than Democrats. However, there are many things that could change this year. Virginia has seen a rise in suburban moderate voters, and observers of elections are seeing (in long lines waiting for their turn) an extremely strong African-American presence in many traditionally conservative districts (Stafford County). Terry McAuliffe broke the “history” rules once more, in 2013.
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Youngkin may also see this race as very different. President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have been dropping. Polls show highest disapproval among voters who are Independents—approximately 33 percent of Virginia’s voting population. What’s more, Youngkin and his campaign have successfully pushed education and the issue of critical race theory to the top of Virginia voters’ concerns.
But the question here isn’t whether the Democrat wins or not; it’s whether the Democrat wins and by how much. This could be the same effect on the Senate and House races for Democrats if Terry McAuliffe is elected by a narrow margin as McAuliffe’s loss.
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In other words, if Virginia’s gubernatorial race determines whether my party retains its majority in the House, it’s looking unlikely. It could also serve as a model for Republican candidates seeking to unseat Democrats in other states.
These implications extend far beyond the House of Representatives. Just look at Virginia’s state legislature—both chambers have a Democrat majority and Virginia has had but one Republican governor in the past two decades. So, a win for Youngkin could start a red wave throughout Virginia’s local political races as well.
I am a Democrat and believe the reasons that this race is so close to each other are multi-faceted. I’d be lying if I said the president’s lower approval ratings aren’t a factor; or that Youngkin seized on the issue of parental rights in schools and critical race theory (even if he has lied that they’re teaching this in “all” Virginia public schools, which “all” are not). Or that the president’s infrastructure bill has been ripe and ready for passage and that the reconciliation bill still hasn’t passed—largely because of the progressive caucus of my party. Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted that continued delay on the voting of this legislation could threaten McAuliffe’s chances.
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It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. Democrats may lose many seats because of the tight race. And Republicans will seize upon Youngkin’s formula for success in a purplish-blue state like Virginia and use it as a model for other races throughout the country.
Virginia is said to be for lovers. Today’s voters are likely to say that Virginia is more about who they love than their governor.
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