The Cook Political Report on Friday moved its Virginia gubernatorial race rating from “lean D” to “toss up” with fewer than six weeks to go before election day and early voting now underway.
The election analysis website, used frequently as a reference for campaigns, made the change after recent polls demonstrated a narrowing gap of support between the two major candidates, Republican Glenn Youngkin and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
“We can no longer say this is a contest where the Democrat has the advantage,” Cook Political Report wrote. “While many of the fundamentals favor McAuliffe — and we expect he still has a slight edge — it’s Youngkin who seems to have the enthusiasm on his side.”
Big ratings change this morning at @CookPolitical: As the national environment sours for Democrats and public & private polling shows an increasingly close race, we’re moving our #VAGov rating to Toss Up: ($) https://t.co/XJHLn1d9zs pic.twitter.com/HALj6NSqIy
— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) September 24, 2021
President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by ten points in Virginia in 2020, and a Republican has not won a statewide race there since Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) in 2009.
Cook wrote, “[Youngkin is] far more Bob McDonnell than Ken Cuccinelli, but Democrats hope he’ll be more of an Ed Gillespie ultimately — a more establishment-type Republican who was forced into more conservative positions and tied to Trump as his undoing.”
Cuccinelli, a staunchly conservative Tea Party-backed candidate, narrowly lost to McAuliffe in 2013 by fewer than three points, breaking a nearly four-decade streak where the party controlling the White House was also always the party to lose the off-year Virginia gubernatorial race.
In 2017, Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chair who sought to balance running alongside a Trump White House in a more Trump-averse battleground state, lost more handily than Cuccinelli, coming in nine points behind Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in his race.
Cook wrote its assessment that Youngkin most closely resembles McDonnell “is why while we may put a pinkie on the scale for McAuliffe — and it’s far easier for Democrats in a state like Virginia to get the final few points they need than Republicans — the race is nonetheless close enough in our range to shift its rating.”
The rating report is a favorable development for Youngkin’s campaign and comes on the heels of a University of Mary Washington (UMW) poll showing the Virginia Republican up by five points among likely voters, a noticeable change from many of the prior polls that gave McAuliffe a slight edge.
At present, national sentiments, too, seem to be on Youngkin’s side with Biden’s approval rating currently underwater. The president’s job approval recently sank to record lows following a disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, a draconian vaccine mandate announcement on September 9, and an ongoing southern border crisis.
Cook’s editor in chief, Amy Walter, observed after her outlet released its report, “The good news for McAullife [sic]: he doesn’t need to hit Biden ‘20 numbers to win. The bad news: Biden’s polling waaay below his ‘20 showing.”
Write to Ashley Oliver at [email protected].