Although by any metric the Virginia gubernatorial election is an extremely close race, the Texas Citizen Journal’s forecast model ever so slightly favors Republican Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Polling has the candidates in a statistical tie, so it really could go either way. However, the fact that the race appears to be so close portends bad news for Democrats in 2022.
Virginia’s elections always attract out-sized attention from the national media. This is partly because much of the media lives in northern Virginia’s Washington D.C. suburbs. The main reason however is that Virginia (along with New Jersey) has its statewide elections in the odd numbered year following the presidential election. There’s not a lot of other election news to cover right now, and Virginia can serve as a gauge for where the country is at ahead of the midterms.
The good news for Youngkin is that history is on his side: Virginia voters almost always choose a governor from the party opposite of the newly elected president. The bad news for Youngkin is that the most recent exception to this rule is his opponent. McAuliffe was elected governor in 2013, and served one term (Virginia prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms). He is running with name ID and many of the advantages of incumbency. Virginia has also been trending more and more blue, largely due to the growth of the Washington D.C. suburbs where Donald Trump is very unpopular. President Joe Biden won Virginia in 2020 by 10 points.
Indeed, McAuliffe’s main strategy has been attempting to tie Youngkin to the former president. He started the race as the prohibitive favorite, given Virginia’s Democrat tilt. However, the race has turned out to be much closer than many anticipated, and McAuliffe’s one track strategy has appeared to fall flat.
A former CEO of a private equity firm, Youngkin is often seen wearing his iconic fleece vest and gives off the vibe of an avuncular suburban dad. In other words, in style he couldn’t be more different than Trump.
Youngkin’s tone appears to be helping him in wooing back at least some of the suburban voters Trump drove from the GOP. He has notably kept his distance from the former president. However, he has also tapped into some red meat issues and according to polls has retained the Trump base. Youngkin has walked a tightrope between appealing to the Trump voters on the one hand, and the educated suburbanites on the other. If he is successful he may provide a blueprint for Republicans going forward.
Youngkin has also had some help from his opposition. The race has centered around education issues. Although polls normally give Democrats the edge when it comes to education, in this race, poll respondents favor Youngkin on the issue. McAuliffe gave himself a self-inflicted wound when he said in a debate that, “parents shouldn’t be telling school what to teach.” The comment, which McAuliffe doubled down on, apparently didn’t sit will with parents, who favor Youngkin overwhelmingly.
McAuliffe could also be suffering from the collapse in Biden’s approval rating. Although Biden carried Virginia handily, he is now underwater in the Dominion State, and the national Democrat brand could prove to be a drag on McAuliffe.
It’s obvious that McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton apparatchik, did not expect it would be such a close race. His campaign reeks of desperation, and whether or not he ends up winning, he certainly doesn’t project the air of a winning candidate. Recently, a group of Democrat operatives dressed up as white supremacists wielding tiki torches attended a Youngkin rally in an attempt to smear the Republican. This stunt, for which the grifters at the Lincoln Project immediately took credit, has backfired tremendously. Confident, winning campaigns do not typically engage in such sophomoric behavior.
However, despite McAuliffe’s woes, he may yet eke out a win, given the fact that Virginia has become a reliably blue state of late. But even a McAuliffe victory by a few points bodes real trouble for Democrats.
Since Biden won Virginia by 10 points, even a 3 point McAuliffe victory would point to a significant shift away from Democrats. Virginia leans more Democrat than the country as a whole, so even if Democrats manage to narrowly carry the state, it would mean they would be losing the generic congressional vote nationwide. Swing districts, like that of Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (R-VA), which were close amid a Biden 10-point win, would almost certainly be Republican pickups if Democrat margins shrink by several points.
Youngkin has steadily been gaining in the polls and it would appear that he is peaking at just the right time. However, the question is how much of a margin did McAuliffe manage to bank during early voting before the race turned against him. Will a Youngkin election day surge be enough to overcome a McAuliffe lead in early voting?
Based on aggregated polling, betting markets, campaign finance numbers, and historical trends, the Texas Citizen Journal is predicting a narrow Youngkin win. However, even a McAuliffe win by less than five points would be a really bad sign for Democrat chances in 2022, and would indicate that Republicans are likely to take the house. A close race in Virginia should have Democrats in Congress very concerned, regardless of who wins Tuesday.
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